Quest for City DROP records continues

On Aug. 3, Inweekly made the same public record request of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) and the City of Pensacola. We didn’t intend it to be a test, but the requests have revealed problems with how the City of Pensacola handles routine requests for public information.

The request of DMS was done over the phone to its Help desk. The request to the City of Pensacola was made digitally through its Sunshine Center. The requests were for their DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program) databases.

Florida Department of Management Services
The state forwarded the request to its public records area. The IT department determined the cost to pull DROP information from the system would be $149.30 to get the data for the employees enrolled in DROP for the entire Florida Retirement System.

On Aug. 4, Maggie Mickler, DMS Communications Director, called to see if I would like to narrow the request to save money. I said we were only interested in DROP for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. The next day I was emailed an invoice for $59.72. I mailed the check, and the spreadsheet with over 656 names was received on Aug. 11.

Pretty simple, very professional.

City of Pensacola
The City of Pensacola Sunshine Center has yet to release its DROP information. On Aug. 5 – the day I mailed my check to DMS, Public Records Coordinator Matt Shaud emailed us, “Please kindly clarify the specific City, Fire, and Police pension documents and information you are seeking.”

Stunned as to why DMS understood my request so easily but the City did not and concerned that we could get caught in a game of semantics, I replied, “With Florida Department of Management Services, we simply asked on Aug. 3 for the DROP database and they understood what we wanted. We will have the database for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties electronically on Monday. I’m at a loss as to why any clarification is needed for our request to you. Please tell us how the city of Pensacola tracks its participants in Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and what information is readily available. It will save us time if we understand your system.”

No response – no phone call, no email. Crickets

Six days later, and after I had received the DROP information from the state, Shaud emailed, “I am again asking you to kindly clarify your request as to what specific public records you are asking for when you request the ‘DROP database for City, Fire and Police pensions.’”

The next morning, I tried again to get the City to explain its system. I wrote:

“I responded to request for clarification a week ago –on May 5: (and repeated my May 5 email). We have the DMS DROP spreadsheet. You don’t have the right to withhold DROP information. This request is routine in every other Florida jurisdiction, except the City of Pensacola apparently. We are awaiting your answer to our May 5 email: Please tell us how the city of Pensacola tracks its participants in Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and what information is readily available.

Shaun sent another email Friday afternoon. He avoided my question and insinuated that he was doing the paper a favor by creating a public record. By this time, we had learned the city has management reports on its DROP program.

Dear Richard Outzen:

I have twice requested clarification as to what specific public records you seek with your request for the “DROP database.” The City does not have a separate database specifically for employees in DROP. Instead of simply informing you that we have no responsive records, I am trying to work with you to get you whatever public records we may have.

You mention that the Department of Management Services provided you with a spreadsheet relating to DROP information. The City could likely provide you with a spreadsheet containing DROP information, but that would require the City to retrieve information from various sources and compile it into a single document. This would amount to creating a new public record.

As you are aware, we are not required to create new records in order to satisfy public records requests. However, we are willing to do so in this case.

If you provide us the specific information you are seeking relating to employees currently in DROP, we will provide that to you, if we, in fact, have the information. Please note, however, that some information may be subject to exemption, for example, the home addresses of law enforcement personnel. Please also be aware that a service charge may be applied in the event the request requires the extensive use of technology resources and/or clerical or supervisory assistance.

So I tried one more time and sent this on Saturday:

This is the first time that you have informed us the City does not have a separate database specifically for employees in DROP. However, you have not answered our questions on how the city of Pensacola tracks its participants in Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and what information is readily available.

By now, you understand that the DROP information is not exempt from Florida public record laws. We are not asking you to create a new public record.

Please tell us what records are kept on DROP so that we can properly clarify our request – what forms are completed by the employees, what records are kept on the projected DROP accruals, how are these records maintained electronically, and the reports on DROP provided to city management. Provide us one or two completed examples of each so that we can clarify our request and avoid you having to create any public records.

On Monday, I confirmed with DMS that the agency doesn’t have a separate DROP database, but they have no problems pulling the information out of their Florida Retirement System database. They don’t make an issue about whether it is public record or not; they simply charge for the computer time to pull the information out of the system and create the spreadsheet. DMS believes the public has a right to know who is in DROP.

Prior to the creation of the Sunshine Center, the City of Pensacola regularly provided DROP information without any hassle. Before the Hayward administration, City Clerk Ericka Burnett processed the record requests. The Sunshine Center was created in August 2013 and has had three directors in past three years, which may be part of the problem.

The State Attorney’s Office is monitoring the situation. We will get the DROP information…eventually.