Public records request for BETS database

Ryan Thornburg filed this request with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services of North Carolina .
Est. Completion None
Status
Partially Completed

Communications

From: Ryan Thornburg

Jackie Glenn
Manager, Inspections and Fees Unit
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Division of Public Health
Environmental Health Section
1632 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1632

c/o Lycelle Lawrence
lycelle.lawrence@dhhs.nc.gov
(919) 855-4816

Dear Ms. Glenn and Ms. Lawrence,

Pursuant to North Carolina Public Records Law (G.S. §§ 132-1 through 132-10), I hereby request a complete electronic copy of the database of food establishment inspections maintained by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services known as BETS (Best Environmental Technology System).

In particular, I am requesting all records and all fields from the database from its inception to the present, including but not limited to all fields in the following tables in the BETS database:

DD_BETS_Form_Item_field
DD_BETS_Form_Item
DD_BETS_Activity_Item_Field
DD_BETS_Activity_Item
DD_Visit_Items_Marked
DD_BETS_Form
DD_BETS_Activity

I am also requesting any lookup tables, field layouts code sheets or other documents needed to interpret the data.

I am requesting that this data be supplied in any common electronic form on any common medium, such as an ASCII text file or CSV files in any medium. If needed, I am willing to supply any electronic devices needed for data transfer, such as a flash drive or a CD-ROM.

Also, because of the ongoing public interest in this database, I request that the tables described above be posted at least once a month to http://ehs.ncpublichealth.com/browsablemedia/, the publicly available URL at which your agency has previously published similar food establishment inspection data. To ease public use of the data, I am also requesting the data posted to the URL be formatted as comma-separated values (.csv) files.

The public interest in this data is ongoing, so I would like to work with you to find the best way to obtain updates to this data at least once every 30 days. A monthly export of either the entire database or the specific tables described above to the URL described above would satisfy the public’s ongoing interest.

I am happy to work with your office to make this portion of my request as simple as possible and eliminate any unnecessary work. Please call me before you incur labor costs or the use of information technology resources beyond those that your agency has already established for reproduction of the information requested. We can probably find an efficient solution that serves the public interest while minimizing your effort.

If you determine that any portion or portions of this request cannot be fulfilled as promptly as any other portion of this request, I ask that you first fulfill whatever portion of this request you can fulfill within 10 business days and then fulfill the remainder of the request as promptly as possible.

The records disclosed pursuant to this request will be used in the preparation of news articles and will be displayed on websites of North Carolina news organizations as part of a project being run out of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation. The data will also be used in class exercises by undergraduate and graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill. Accordingly, I request that you waive all fees, if any, in the public interest because the furnishing of the information sought by this request will primarily benefit the public and is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of activities of government. However, if you decline to waive all fees, I am prepared to pay any fees as published in your agency’s schedule of fees as described in G.S. § 132-6.1(b) and published at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/control/pub_recs_charge.pdf. I also request that you notify me if you expect these feeds to exceed $100.

This letter follows nearly a year of concerted yet unsuccessful effort and conversations between my students and I and the staff of the Environmental Health Section to obtain current and complete data about food establishment inspections in North Carolina.

If you have any questions or concerns while processing this request, please feel free to give me call at the number below. I look forward to your response within 10 business days. Thank you for your time.

Ryan Thornburg
Assistant Professor
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CB #3365
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365

(919) 537-3681
ryan.thornburg@unc.edu

From: Ryan Thornburg

Hello,

The below records request was sent to an employee who no longer works for DHHS. Please confirm receipt.

Thank you.

From: Ryan Thornburg

Mr. Howell,

Thank you for your voice message at my office the other day to follow up and let me know that you'd not yet received the request. I appreciate it.

I've attached a copy of the original request below. It may have come to you from a different address because I'm trying out a new service that helps keep track of requests. It has the unfortunate name of muckrock.com, but I'm hoping it will be useful for both requester and agencies.

In any case, here is the text of the original request.

Thanks again for following up,
Ryan

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Mr. Thornburg:

Thank you. I did receive the request under the muckrock.com name, and your request is being processed.

I was informed that there will be a delay in fulfilling your request because of a vacant IT position in the Environmental Health Section. They are working to fill the position, and we will fulfill your request as quickly as possible.

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

From: Ryan Thornburg

Mr. Howell,

Thanks so much for your prompt reply.

I believe that position has been vacant for more than a year, so I'm hoping we might work together to find a way that DHHS can fulfill the request regardless of whether or when that position is filled.

I'd like to better understand the vacancy's effect on the BETS database availability and how I might be able to reduce that effect.

For example, perhaps the Department can fulfill some portions of the request more easily than others. If so, I'd be interested in working with you on that.

Would you be the best person with whom to speak about that, or is there another person at the Department to whom I should address those questions?

Thanks again,
Ryan

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

I am looking into that very request, and there does appear to be some information that is easier to retrieve and can be provided sooner. I’ll let you know when I get a more concrete answer on that.

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

From: Ryan Thornburg

Mr. Howell,

Have you been able to discover any more information about whether some information is easier to retrieve and can be provided sooner?

I want to do what I can to reduce workload on the Department. Would it be possible for me to bring you my portable hard drive and have the Department copy or export the entire raw BETS database to that medium one day this week or next? If not, could we set up a meeting or phone call to discuss the Department's technical and workforce limitations that are delaying fulfillment of the request?

Thank you again,
Ryan

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Ryan:

Thanks for following up. I’ve put in a request to bring in an IT employee to assist in fulfilling the request. I don’t know the logistics of this, but it’s worth exploring. Shoot me an email on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Dear Mr. Thornburg:

You requested a complete electronic copy of the database of food establishment inspections maintained by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services known as BETS (Best Environmental Technology System). I have attached a document titled “qryInspections01.zip” in satisfaction of your request.

Please let me know if we can be of further assistance to you.

With warm regards,

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

From: Ryan Thornburg

Dear Mr. Howell,

Thank you very much for sending me this information. While it does not fully satisfy my request, it is certainly very helpful. I appreciate your willingness and ability to fulfill the most useful portion of the request even as we continue to work on the remainder of the items, specifically the following:

ITEM 1:
It appears as if this spreadsheet contains food establishment inspections conducted January 1, 2012 through May 20, 2013. Is that correct, and are there any older records in the BETS database? If so, I would like all records and all fields from the database from its inception to the present, per my original request.

ITEM 2:
The "COUNTY_ID" field in this spreadsheet contains values 001 through 100, with the exception of 037. There are no records with value of 037 for this year (2013). I suspect that this field is a numerical indicator that corresponds to the 100 N.C. counties in alphabetical/numerical order. If so, that seems to indicate that no food establishment inspections from Gates County are in the BETS database for 2013. Is that correct?

To help answer this particular question and to aid my understanding of the data in general, I would like any lookup tables, field layouts code sheets or other documents needed to interpret the
data, per my original request.

ITEM 3:
Because of the ongoing public interest in this database, I would like to discuss with you the easiest way the Department could provide monthly updated copies of this data. I am happy to work with your office to make that portion of my request as simple as possible and avoid incurring labor costs or the use of information technology resources beyond those that the Department has already established for reproduction of the information requested.

ITEM 4:
If possible, to ease public use of the data, I would like to know whether the data can be easily exported as comma-separated values (.csv) files. If the records are not available in CSV format, could you please provide a description of each form in which the database can be copied or reproduced using the agency's computer facilities?

ITEM 5:
To fully understand and accurately inspect these records, and to efficiently analyze the information contained therein, I remain interested in all records and all fields from the database, including but not limited to all fields in the following tables in the BETS database:
DD_BETS_Form_Item_field
DD_BETS_Form_Item
DD_BETS_Activity_Item_Field
DD_BETS_Activity_Item
DD_Visit_Items_Marked
DD_BETS_Form
DD_BETS_Activity

The spreadsheet file you sent duplicates unnecessarily several fields that may not be duplicated in the original database. Such duplication may have occurred as the information contained in the database was transformed into .xlsx format. The duplication of fields may create additional computational costs and delays in the public's ability to inspect the records. The spreadsheet also does not include the fields in the database that would show the particular items for which each point deduction was taken. I believe that such information -- in addition to other public information -- would be contained in one of the tables specifically mentioned above.

Thank you again for your prompt and courteous reply and your continued work on this request. If you have any questions about the items I've raised here, please don't hesitate to call or email.

Thanks again,
Ryan Thornburg

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Mr. Thornburg:

With regards to Item #3, once the IT position within the section is filled, we will explore uploading this data on routine intervals. I will get back with you regarding the remaining items.

With warm regards,

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

From: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Mr. Thornburg:

It appears that the remaining data that you are seeking in Item 1 and Item 5 have been pulled, and IT is determining the best way to transmit that data to you. I will let you know as soon as I hear from IT.

The codes in the database that you reference in Item 2 should be explained in the attached documents.

I hope to be in touch shortly with the remaining information.

With warm regards,

Kevin V. Howell, Esq.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs Office

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