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January 10, 2011

Auditor Salmon Asked Judge to Weigh Costs of 'Political and Insincere' Records Requests

IM000515 State Auditor Tom Salmon may be disappointed in the recent court ruling by Judge Geoffrey Crawford disallowing public officials to charge fees to produce some records for public inspection.

The auditor recently sent an ex parte email urging Judge Crawford to consider the costs imposed on state offices by requesters with "political and insincere" intent and to allow state offices to recoup costs associated with those requests.

"I hope as you consider the issue with public records requests, ample consideration can be given to those in state offices which undergo political and insincere requests for information," wrote Salmon in his Dec. 29 email. "Such requests need to have boundaries. Cost, scope and the state's true business should be given due consideration."

Salmon noted several records requests of his office, one from a Middlebury attorney Mitch Pearl, another from Seven Days and a third from his Democratic challenger in the 2010 election, Doug Hoffer. In all, his office produced more than 1500 pages of records in response to these various requests (see picture).

"This is a large burden to state offices that seek to serve citizen interests, not political interests," wrote Salmon. "If there are not reasonable expenses apportioned to a requester, I can only imagine how much state business risks derailment due to an agenda."

In the case of Pearl, Salmon contends that Pearl refused to pay about 25 percent of a sizable bill. Pearl tells Seven Days that it's true he did contest a portion of the bill, but only because Salmon's office had produced records that he had not originally requested.

"After a couple of letters back and forth, we decided to simply pay the full bill, since there really is no adequate process or procedure to challenge what we believed to be an excessive charge," Pearl told Seven Days.

During the campaign, Seven Days writer Ken Picard did request documents related to the work of the auditor's office as he prepared a profile of the auditor's race. (Additionally, I had requested documents in April related to the office's staff costs and budget.)

For his part, Hoffer said he requested information about a number of items dealing with his official activities including his office calendar, if he had met with officials from Vermont Yankee, travel expenses, and Salmon's efforts to deal with the dairy crisis.

Hoffer said he was disappointed in Salmon's response.

"For Mr. Salmon to complain about requests for information is ironic and hypocritical because he often talks about transparency and accountability. And he could have avoided all these pesky records requests by simply posting the information on the Auditor's web site," said Hoffer. "Mr. Salmon said that public records requests 'need to have boundaries.'  It is shocking that the State Auditor thinks Vermont should reduce access to public records."

During last fall's campaign a supporter of Hoffer's — Burlington attorney John Franco — pushed for the public release of a video depicting the traffic stop and DUI arrest of Salmon in November 2009. Though Hoffer said he had no knowledge of Franco's request, Franco said he made the request to make political points: First, to raise questions about Salmon's judgment and second to point out the state police's disparate treatment between the release of a traffic stop involving then Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and Salmon, a Republican. In Shumlin's case, the tape was released and in Salmon's case it was not released. Franco alleged that the difference was based on the politics, not public policy.

Coincidentally, it was Judge Crawford who ruled in Franco's favor last fall and ordered the DUI tape released.

Download Crawford's ruling: Download PRRcrawford

Download Salmon's letter: Download Salmonprr

Download Pearl's records request: Download Langrock Sperry 6.4.10

Download Pearl's bill: Download Sperry

Someone needs to tell Hoffer that the Auditor's race is over, and that the results weren't particularly close.

BTW was this email posted w/Salmon's blessing? The warning at the bottom is pretty unequivocal.

Besides swimming against the current, state auditor Tom Salmon might be onto something.

It appears in his world view of things the state could not only put a hamper on "political and insincere" record requests, but for any who persisted, should charge a "political and insincere" fee for each page.

Let's see, $1.00 extra per page on top of whatever it truly costs the state to retrieve and process such would do it, which could even have the potential of helping the state out of its fiscal mess er, crisis.

However one is left to wonder who would be defining what requests were either political or insincere (or both) in nature? Him?

Scary stuff, chilling actually!

Just who is truly being "political and insincere" in this particular case is certainly in question.

Save the voters on election day of course, I am still wondering who gets to audit the state auditor?

Good thing the state has someone serving on the bench who gets it.

By the way Shay, any word yet if the state will challenge the ruling mentioned within your first paragraph?

Upon further reflection, it is amazing how Tom Salmon as well as potentially certain others within state government either wants to be gatekeeper or have the state be on whether to allow access to public records and charging what amounts to fees that would serve as a roadblock to both access and transparency, except for those able and willing to pay for such.

It is also too bad that the state and, officials working on behalf of the state who were doing so, can not be sued and there be recriminations if they were found guilty. The state and taxpayers itself should not have to pay in such cases though, just those -- drawn from their salaries or income (whether still in office or not) -- who have basically blocked access to what is lawfully public records.

I think it is ridiculous that the auditor's office is charging almost $200 per hour for copying documents. I know high prices attorneys who do not charge that much. What Salmon has not figured out with the $1.00 per copy is that it accounts for the town clerk's office time in making those copies. If he wants to charge that ridiculous fee for time then he should not charge additional for the copy itself. I am sure as an auditor he knows that double billing is illegal but there he is doing exactly that.

Jimmy: Salmon's email was included in the court records associated with this case, which means it's a public record.

Morgan: As for whether the state will appeal, that's up to Attorney General Bill Sorrell. In a separate post, I noted that he has yet to make a determination.

John, the posted invoice reflects a rate of $20/hr and five cents a copy. These would essentially be the costs of sending a low level staffer to kinko's.

Salmon should shut the hell up and start doing what he miraculously was elected to do again--audit! We don't need his two cents on every issue, nor do we solicit it. Just find Vermont some money Tomboy and prove to us that your worth the ungodly amount of money we pay you to be acting auditor.

Also please stop the P.T. Barnum theatrics of driving drunks home on New Year's Eve. It was very transparent that you just wanted a press pop and little more. My real issue with your DUI wasn't that you were too drunk to drive, but more about the way you tried to use your position to gain favor with the cop. Like a little kid you are Tommy.

The tone of Jesus H Christs post is what has set off some crazies in this country. We should all try to be civil and respectful.

@ Jesus H. Disappointed Prog:

"Salmon should shut the hell up and start doing what he miraculously was elected to do again--audit!"

There was nothing miraculous about his re-election. More people wanted him than your candidate, Douggie the Prog. A lot more. Deal with it.

"We don't need his two cents on every issue, nor do we solicit it."

If we don't need Salmon's two cents, why do we need yours?

"Also please stop the P.T. Barnum theatrics of driving drunks home on New Year's Eve. It was very transparent that you just wanted a press pop and little more."

Uh, he was basically ordered by the court to do this. Of course, you'd know this if you actually paid attention. Please get a clue.

"My real issue with your DUI wasn't that you were too drunk to drive, but more about the way you tried to use your position to gain favor with the cop. Like a little kid you are Tommy."

Can you show me where you blogged your similar disgust when Shumlin did the same thing?

To quote the REAL Jesus: let him who is without sin . . .

"We don't need his two cents on every issue, nor do we solicit it."

"We" weren't offered his two cents. This story isn't about a press release, it's about an email he sent to two people.

Maybe Salmon should send a F*** YOU letter to the judge. Seems to be his modus operandi.

I have read Auditor Salmon's letter and am shocked. He is not a party to the case yet he is attempting to submit evidence to the judge. This is totally inappropriate behavior and he should know better. If he had something to add to the case he ought to have filed a motion to intervene.

If he feels there should be changes to the public records law he should bring it up with the legislature.

Does Mitch Pearl have some problem with Auditor Salmon or was he hired by someone? If so that person should speak for themself and not hide behind an attorney.

Put the politics aside and look at the bare essentials just for a payers are paying wages for the workers who have to take time away from regular tasks to make all these copies and complete all these requests...there should be a fee charged, just as there is if you request a death certificate or marriage license. Is it fair for VT tax payers to foot the bill for this service? I think not! It's a very basic business rule of business in today's economy can afford to give away anything. Yes, the State should be looked at as a business then perhaps it would run better.

There are already cost-recovery provisions in the statutes; it's a balance between providing accountability with minimizing cost to the taxpayer. Grousing about a couple of large requests makes no sense in the larger picture. What is absolutely wrong, though, is questioning the requester's motives - they are completely irrelevant.

A good reporter would go ask Mitch Pearl "Who hired you?"

Let's be transparent!

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