This week’s round-up: The cost of protecting the Winter White House, pay for play(s) in Michigan, and the DOE's dwindling civil rights caseload

This week’s round-up: The cost of protecting the Winter White House, pay for play(s) in Michigan, and the DOE’s dwindling civil rights caseload

Plus, the EPA tells requesters to hurry up and wait

Edited by JPat Brown

Records released this week show taxpayers paid almost $20 million for the Coast Guard to protect President Donald Trump during visits to Mar-a-Lago, and a Michigan State Police captain is under investigation for favoring a towing firm in exchange for sports tickets. Plus, records show the Department of Education has closed more than 1200 Obama-era civil rights probes, and the Environmental Protection Agency is making FOIA requesters wait for documents - with an average processing time for complex requests of 388 days.

See a great use of public records we missed? Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we’ll include them in the next roundup. And if you’d like even more inspiration, read past round ups.

Protecting the Winter White House

Records released through FOIA this week reveal each of Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago costs the Coast Guard more than $1 million.

Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago, which sits on a strip of land between two waterways, both requiring Coast Guard patrols, 17 times since his inauguration. The records show the costs for 16 of his trips.

Coast Guard protection includes an H-65 rescue helicopter, which patrols the airspace for around $8,000 per flight-hour, as well as 87-foot patrol boats with .50-caliber machine guns.

The Government Accountability Office is currently re-examining President Trump’s visits to Mar-a-lago, but initially estimated each trip costs more than $3 million.

Presidential patrols come amid a funding pinch for the Coast Guard, which has a $10 billion annual budget. The service has a maintenance backlog and lobbied hard for a funding increase in the president’s latest budget proposal. It felt the strain from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate that blasted 2,500 miles of U.S. shoreline over a five-week stretch.

Tow ties

A Michigan public records request revealed Michigan State Police Captain Monica Yesh is under investigation for inappropriate ties to Shane Anders, the owner of Area Towing and Recovery in Taylor, Michigan.

Records also showed Yesh is one of 20 MSP troopers or supervisors who have been investigated for inappropriate ties to Anders or Gasper Fiore, a Detroit towing boss.

Yesh - who is accused of inappropriate ties to Anders but not to Fiore - is also accused of steering repair work on patrol cars to a Novi automotive shop, Novi Motive, where she allegedly had her personal vehicle maintained for free, according to internal affairs investigation records.

In an e-mail Thursday to the Free Press, Yesh acknowledged receiving free tickets to sporting events from Anders - whom she described as a personal friend - in the past. She otherwise denied the allegations, saying they originated from a disgruntled employee she would not identify, and were based on “rumor and innuendo.”

A sealed Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit became public last year and revealed conversations captured secretly through a wiretap between Fiore and Anders. The conversations suggest there are MSP officers working on behalf of the two men. Records also showed allegations against Yesh stretching back to 2002.

EPA to requesters: Go FOIA yourself

EPA head Scott Pruitt instructed his political staff to review documents released through FOIA before public release and instructed EPA staff to ignore requests about him until older public records requests from Barack Obama’s presidency were fulfilled.

Elijah Cummings, the ranking democrat on the Committee of Oversight and Government reform, sent a letter to Pruitt this week, accusing him of intentionally delaying the release of documents and said “given the vast number of allegations against you, the American people deserve more transparency regarding your actions - not less.”

In April of this year, Huffington Post reporter Ashley Feinberg filed a request for “any and all electronic correspondence” between EPA staffer Millan Hupp and Pruitt. Hupp, who resigned from her job as Pruitt’s scheduler last week, was at the center of many Pruitt controversies, the most famous one being that Pruitt allegedly asked Hupp to find him a used mattress from one of Trump’s hotels. On June 1st, Feinberg received an email from EPA saying her request was 1208th in the queue, with an estimated completion date of September 27, 2019 - 542 days after she filed it.

Nick Surgey, who has reported on the EPA for the Intercept, said the EPA estimates show they doesn’t even know when the requests will be completed, they just want people to go away.

DOE shuttering civil rights probes

The DOE’s Office of Civil Rights closed more than 1,200 civil rights probes begun under Obama and has become more lenient.

For instance, 70 percent of complaints of discrimination against students with limited proficiency in the English language were upheld under Obama, compared to 52 percent under the current administration. The proportion of complaints substantiated regarding the individualized educational needs of students with disabilities has dropped from 45 percent to 34 percent; regarding sexual harassment and violence, from 41 percent to 31 percent; and regarding racial harassment, from 31 percent to 21 percent.

Multiple FOIA requests gave ProPublica data on more than 40,000 civil rights cases. ProPublica analyzed the data and found while the OCR has resolved more cases and therefore, reports higher numbers of cases with findings of wrongdoing, the percentage is lower.

Read a great FOIA-based news story we should highlight? Let us know and maybe we can include it in our next roundup! Send it over via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Image via U.S. Coast Guard Flickr