Communications with GE

Andrew Quemere filed this request with the Mayor's Office of Boston, MA.
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Crowdfund Request: Communications with GE

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Earlier this year, we learned that General Electric would be moving its headquarters to Boston and that the company would be receiving millions in tax breaks and corporate welfare from the city and state. Help us release more than 2,500 emails between Boston and GE so we can learn more about how this deal was reached.

Backed by Conor Skelding, Jonathan Cohn, Jaydeep Bardhan, Emma Best, and 14 others.

$528.18 raised out of $1,606.53.

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Communications

From: Andrew Quemere

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Public Records Law, M.G.L. c.66, §10, I hereby request the following records:

Please provide copies of all written and electronic communications with General Electric (or GE) and its representatives from January 1, 2014 to the present.

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as we believe this request is in the public interest, as suggested but not stipulated by the recommendations of the Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

I expect the request to be filled in an accessible format, including for screen readers, which provide text-to-speech for persons unable to read print. Files that are not accessible to screen readers include, for example, .pdf image files as well as physical documents.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 10 calendar days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Andrew Quemere

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere:

I am writing to inform you that the Law Department has received your public
records request dated February 3, 2016 regarding communications with GE and
GE representatives from 2014 to the present.

We will review any and all responsive documents and will need to determine
whether any of the responsive documents will be exempt under the applicable
provisions of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. Depending upon the
volume of records, we will make a determination as to applicable fees.

If you wish to modify your request please notify me promptly in
writing. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere:

This email is in response to your February 3, 2016 Public Records request
for "all written and electronic communications with General Electric (or GE)
and its representatives from January 1, 2014 to the present."

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Public Records Law, the formula we use for
the search, segregation, review, and copying of each email is $0.68 per per
email.

After an initial review of our records, there are
approximately 2,568 emails. The estimated cost to complete this public
records request is $1,746.24 Please let me know if you would like to move
forward.

If you wish to modify your request please notify me promptly in writing.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

Please clarify. I asked for "written and electronic communications," but you have only offered to provide emails. Are these emails the only responsive records or are there any others, such as text messages, faxes, letters, etc?

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere,

I wanted to clarify with you that the only responsive documents are
electronic communications. The City has no written communications
responsive to your request. Thank you.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

As you may be aware, the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office has recently issued regulations that lower the allowable copying/printing cost for public records to five cents per page: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/11/massachusetts-reduces-cost-copies-public-records/wz98hmV2Rjktez5Iqg8OJJ/story.html

In light of this information, please provide a revised fee estimate.

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere:

Attached is a decision by the Secretary of State's Office Public Records
Division allowing us to charge $0.88 per email. $0.20 of the $0.88 cents
is allocated to the cost of making paper copies of the requested emails,
the newer regulations have reduced that cost to $0.05. If you choose to
move forward, the City will be providing you with electronic copies in PDF
format, so the cost per email is reduced to $0.68. As we have already
accounted for this, our cost estimate remains the same. Thank you.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

I'm sorry to hear that. Perhaps in your fee estimate, you should not have told me that the 68 cent per email was in part to cover the cost of "copying of each email." I'm sure you can see how this led to my confusion.

I'm curious to know why it will cost some $40 per hour (per the ruling you cited) to search and segregate the records I have requested. Is this the rate for the lowest paid employee who is capable of searching for and segregating emails?

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere:

This $40 per hour rate is based on a combination of City legal and
technical staff.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

It's still not entirely clear to me why you are charging so much. How many members of the city's legal staff would be working on this request, and how much are each of them paid per hour? How many members of the technical staff would be working on this, and how much are each of them paid? Are each of these staffers the lowest-paid employees capable of performing the tasks they would be assigned to? How many hours will this request take to complete? How many of these hours are for searching for records, and how many are for segregating records?

From: George Bahnan

Mr. Quemere:

The City has provided you with a cost estimate in accordance with the the
Secretary of State's SPR10/216 decision. In that decision, the Secretary
of State found the cost of $0.68 for the search and segregation of each
email reasonable and in compliance with regulations.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

Nothing you just said answers any of my questions, so allow me to ask them again: How many members of the city's legal staff would be working on this request, and how much are each of them paid per hour? How many members of the technical staff would be working on this, and how much are each of them paid? Are each of these staffers the lowest-paid employees capable of performing the tasks they would be assigned to? How many hours will this request take to complete? How many of these hours are for searching for records, and how many are for segregating records?

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

Please be advised that according to "A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law," a publication by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth:

"The Supervisor will presume that the lowest paid employee in an agency is capable of search and segregation of records, and, except where exceptional circumstances are present, it is expected that the lowest hourly rate will be used to calculate search and segregation time." (page 8)

The city has not cited any "exceptional circumstances" that would require using higher paid employees. As such, please recalculate your fee estimate using the rate of the lowest paid employee in City Hall.

Additionally, according to 950 CMR 32.06:

"A custodian shall provide a written, good faith estimate of the applicable copying, search time and segregation time fees to be incurred prior to complying with a public records request where the total costs are estimated to exceed ten dollars."

Please be advised that your fee estimate does not specify any search time or segregation time. Please specify the number of hours necessary for search time and the number of hours necessary for segregation time.

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan

It has been several days since I emailed you, and I have not yet received a response. When do you expect to provide your revised fee estimate?

From: George Bahnan

Mr. Quemere,

The City has provided you with a cost estimate in accordance with the the
Secretary of State's SPR10/216 decision. The City will not be revising
this cost estimate.

Under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, it is your right to seek
redress through the administrative process provided by the Office of the
Supervisor of Public Records, Office of the Secretary of State.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

As I'm sure you are aware, the supervisor of records makes decisions on a case-by-case basis using the specific facts of the case at hand. The ruling you have cited is not related to my request. I do not have the full correspondence related to the ruling you have cited — only the ruling itself — and therefore I do not know the full context. I am not sure why the supervisor ruled in the city's favor in that case, but I can only assume that he found there were "exceptional circumstances" that warranted allowing the city to charge "$40.00 per hour for staff attorneys and a higher rate for technical professionals."

However, in this case, you have not specified any "exceptional circumstances" that would necessitate the city using higher paid employees to provide these records. Please recalculate your fee estimate using the rate of the lowest paid employee in City Hall or explain the "exceptional circumstances" that require you to use the higher paid employees.

Additionally, you have refused to explain how many hours you expect this request to take or the exact amount of money the city pays the employees who would fulfill it. It appears to be your contention that you do not need to provide this information. However, I'm sure you or someone else you work with knows this information, so I would very much appreciate it if you would provide it anyway, if only as a courtesy. If you are not aware of this information, I would appreciate it if you found out for me.

Additionally, it has come to my attention that the Boston Police Department only charges $15 per hour to provide copies of records. You can see an example of that here: https://www.muckrock.com/foi/massachusetts-1/emails-between-boston-police-department-and-national-security-agency-12297/#comm-105895

If it is your contention that City Hall's highly paid staff attorneys and "technical professionals" are the only employees capable of searching for and segregating emails, perhaps you can request that the police department lends one of its workers to fulfill this request at the cost of $15 an hour. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my belief that the police department uses the same email system as City Hall.

Lastly, I would like clarification on another point. In your fee estimate, you stated that the fee was to cover "search, **segregation**, review, and copying of each email" (emphasis added). However, you have not cited any exemptions to the public records law. Will you be segregating the records or was that a mistake like when you said the fee included the copying cost? As I'm sure you are aware, the supervisor's "Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law" states (page 2, emphasis added):

"A records custodian’s response must be in writing. The response must include a good faith estimate of any cost of providing the record. **The response must also include a specific exemption to the Public Records Law** to justify the denial of access to any record."

I am eagerly awaiting your clarification on these matters.

From: George Bahnan

Dear Mr. Quemere:

The decision that I continue to site is a quick and easy way to calculate
public records cost estimates. We use this calculation, because it allows
us to get the records into the hands of requesters faster and more often
than not, results in an estimate that is cheaper than if you were to use
the formula laid out in the public records law.

However, I will certainly provide you with a cost estimate using the the
formula laid out in the Public Records Law. The hourly wage of the lowest
paid employee capable of searching for the requested records is $53.92. 1
hour was spent searching for your requested records. This will cost
$53.92. The hourly wage of the lowest paid employee capable of segregation
and redaction is $31.38. Assuming it will take about 60 seconds on average
to review each email, it will take about 42.8 hours to review all of the
requested records. This will cost $1,343.06. As we will be delivering the
requested records electronically, the Law Department will not be charging
any fees for copying. Using the formula laid out in the Public Records
Law, the total cost estimate comes to $1,396.98.

I cannot speak for why the Police Department had charged $15.00 an hour for
their time. We do not use the the same email system or technical
professionals.

Lastly, the Law Department has not yet reviewed the requested records, so
it is impossible to say for certain what exemptions, if any at all, will be
claimed. If the Law Department denies the access to any record, it will
certainly include a specific exemption to the Public Records Law in our
response.
--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

According to 950 CMR 32.03, segregation time is defined as “the time used to delete or expurgate data which is exempt.” The definition does not include time spent on the “review” of records. If, as you stated, there is no information that has been determined to be exempt, there should be no fee for segregation time assessed.

Additionally, as previously stated, the “Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law” states the following:

“The response must include a good faith estimate of any cost of providing the record. The response must also include a specific exemption to the Public Records Law to justify the denial of access to any record.”

If you intend to charge me for the segregation of records, I am entitled to know the reason why at the same time that the fee is assessed.

Please let me know when you have made a determination as to whether any segregation is necessary, what exemption(s) the information is exempt under, and whether your determination changes the fee.

Yours truly,
Andrew Quemere

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

When do you expect to provide your revised fee estimate?

From: Andrew Quemere

Mr. Bahnan,

It has come to my attention that the city has provided hundreds of emails potentially responsive to my request to other media organization. Since these emails have already been prepared for disclosure, you should be able to provide them to me at no cost. Please immediately provide them, then provide me with a new fee estimate that takes into account the fact that you will not need to segregate any information from these already-prepared emails. As I have already stated, your revised fee estimate should also list any exemptions to the public records law that you intend to cite if you intend to charge me for segregation time. If you do not intend to cite any exemptions at this time, your fee estimate should not include any segregation time.

I look forward to receiving these emails and your revised fee estimate with haste.

Yours truly,
Andrew Quemere

From: Mayor's Office

A first set of responsive documents from the agency, with more to be sent at a specified date.

From: Mayor's Office

A cover letter granting the request and outlining any exempted materials, if any.

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From: Mayor's Office

A cover letter granting the request and outlining any exempted materials, if any.

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From: George Bahnan

Mr. Quemere,

This email is in response to your public records request dated April 6,
2016 for the hundreds of emails provided by the city to other media
organizations which may be potentially responsive to an earlier public
records request submitted by you.

Attached, please find documents responsive to your request.

Under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, it is your right to seek
redress through the administrative process provided by the Office of the
Supervisor of Public Records, Office of the Secretary of State.

General_Electric_FOIA-2016-04-07.zip
<https://drive.google.com/a/boston.gov/file/d/0BzPAJAATdnPZZFlSRzl6Z21qMXc/view?usp=drive_web>

--
George T. Bahnan
Paralegal
Law Department
City Hall, Room 615
Pho: (617) 635-2902
Fax: (617) 635-2012
George.Bahnan@boston.gov

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