Thursday, May 18, 2017

What Was In The Jefferson County Sheriff's Report Related to the Fox C-6 Audit?

Is anyone interested in reading the report prepared by Jefferson County Sheriff's Office related to the findings of the May 2016 Missouri State Auditor's report?

Obtaining a copy of that report has proven to be a bit of a challenge.

I thought the community might find it interesting as to what it takes to obtain copies of public records such as the Jefferson County Sheriff's Report. My initial requests were made at the end of January, 2017 with exchanges going through mid February, 2017.

Probably the most interesting thing you may discover in reading this article, is the fact that Jefferson County informed me that they no longer have a copy of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office report. The reactions I receive when I tell people about the county's response regarding my Sunshine Law requests is priceless.

I made a Sunshine Law request to the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office asking for a copy of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office report as well as a copy of the FBI report. My Sunshine Law requests to both the Jefferson County and St. Charles County offices asked that the fees be waived for the reports per Missouri Sunshine Law, since these reports were of public interest.

Since the reports generated during the investigation of the 2016 Missouri State Auditor's findings were created with taxpayer dollars, you may find it interesting that my request to waive fees for the reports were denied. Charging to obtain copies of reports is a very simple way to keep the public from obtaining the information.

Wanting to charge me for the reports reminds me of the time when Fox C-6 asked me to pay $170 for copies of the credit card statements that should have been included in the school board meeting packets each month.

I also wonder why the local news media hasn't filed any Sunshine Law requests for these reports since the reports may help the community understand why no charges were filed after the release of the May 2016 Missouri State Auditor's report.

From my initial Sunshine Law request I received the following response:

"I have received your Sunshine Law request in email format from our Prosecuting Attorney, Forrest Wegge.

Please consider this electronic e-mail our initial 3-day response as required under law to your Sunshine Law request dated February 6, 2017.

It is my understanding that the file your are requesting information from is not currently in the possession of Mr. Wegge, or his office here in Hillsboro, Missouri.

As you are probably aware, a special prosecutor was appointed to this case. I believe this case file is still in that individual's possession.

After I have made contact with the special prosecutor, I will further advise you regarding the anticipated time it will take to complete production as well as the costs or other issues prior to proceeding any further as you requested.

Jefferson County will not waive fees/costs in answering this request. Please be advised that there may be Federal Law protections that prohibit Jefferson County from disclosing any requested "FBI" reports.

I expect to have further response to you within the next 7 to 10 days."

After making a Sunshine Law request to the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office I received the following response from a Jefferson County counselor:

"It has come to my attention, from speaking with an assistant county counselor of St. Charles County, that you have made a similar Sunshine Law request with the Prosecutor's Office of St. Charles County, Missouri.

I have been informed that they have provided you documents and responses to your requests for files that may be protected or be work product. 

I have reached out to the Jefferson County Prosecutor's Office and have been informed that it does not have any of the requested documentation that your are requesting in your Sunshine Law request - the entire file is in the possession of the St. Charles Prosecutor's Office. 

Therefore, Jefferson County does not have any documents to provide you pursuant to your Sunshine Law Request."

I also submitted a Sunshine Request to the St. Charles Prosecuting Attorney's Office. The Public Information Officer from the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office sent me the following response:

"Please be advised that the Federal Bureau of Investigation report, and pages from that report which are contained in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s report, are exempt from disclosure by Section 610.021(14), RSMo (Supp. 2014) (exempting “records which are protected from disclosure by law”), in conjunction with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552(b)(7)(C). Furthermore, your request for disclosure of records which are the property of the Federal Bureau of Investigation must be directed to the United States Department of Justice pursuant to 28 C.F.R. Part 16, Subpart B, Sections 16.21, et seq.
Additionally, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s report contains social security numbers which are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 610.035, RSMo (2000). The social security numbers will therefore have to be redacted from the report. We estimate the staff time to redact social security numbers at 2 hours at $38.04 per hour.
We also estimate that the non-exempt documents will total approximately 3,850 pages, which can be provided at $0.10 per page plus staff time of 4 hours at $38.04 per hour, for a total of $537.16.

We presume, however, that like your previous request, you desire electronic copies of these documents. We can provide the non-exempt documents on CD-DVD at a cost of $10.00 for the medium as well as estimated staff time of 4 hours to transfer the documents to the medium at a cost of $38.04 per hour for a total of $162.16. 

We require payment of estimated costs prior to commencement of document copying. Please specify whether you desire paper copies at an estimated cost of $613.24 or electronic copies and the appropriate medium at an estimated cost of $238.24, and remit the corresponding amount to this Office. If actual costs exceed the estimate we shall invoice you for the difference. Conversely if actual costs are below the estimate we shall refund the difference."

Charging for reports that the public might be interested in reviewing is certainly a good way to keep those reports out of the public's view. It's similar to what I ran up against in February 2014 when I requested copies of the credit card statements from Fox C-6.

Below are links to a couple of articles I wrote in August 2014. The first article documented what Fox's school district policy was at the time when former superintendent Dianne Critchlow and others were using school district credit cards to make purchases.

The second article documented why it took so long to obtain the school district credit card statements to review after I had asked the Fox C-6 School Board if they had been receiving and reviewing the credit card statements in their board packets each month.

Below is the school district policy that was in place when former superintendent Critchlow and others were using school district credit cards as documented in the article above.
Policy 3125 – Credit Cards (05/97) 
School district credit cards will only be issued to employees upon the approval of the Board of Education. Use of the credit card will be limited to the purchase of instructional materials, items related to the improvement of instruction or materials related to capital improvements or supplies.

The next article documents the amount of push back I received in my efforts to obtain copies of the school district credit card statements after asking our school board members at the February 2014 school board meeting if they had been reviewing the credit card statements:

The documentation above leads to the next link which was a letter to the Fox C-6 community from the school district dated May 25, 2016. It was provided to the community after the release of the May 2016 Missouri State Auditor's report which gave the district a rating of "POOR".

The following statement really stands out in the letter to the community:

"The District, and its current administration, wish to see full restitution for any resources that were misused under previous policies and regulations." 

It's been nearly a year since the district issued the statement above and it doesn't appear that there has been much, if any effort, into seeking "full restitution for any resources that were misused under previous policies and regulations".

In April, prior to the elections I emailed the Fox C-6 school board members asking them what their plans were in recovering taxpayer monies that were documented in the May 2016 Missouri State Auditor's report as being misused or improperly obtained. I didn't receive any written responses from the board in response to my questions.

The community is going to have to make a concerted effort to voice your concerns and frustration to the Fox C-6 school board in order to recover the taxpayer dollars that were referenced in the 2016 Missouri State Auditor's report.

Last month the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Arnold-Imperial Leader published articles about the recent release of a Follow Up report from Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway. Both articles referenced many of the items documented in the original State Auditor's report.

The articles have everyone in the community and outside the community talking again ad asking why there weren't any charges filed in this case.

Asking why no charges were filed in this case is certainly a valid question and one that taxpayers should be allowed to ask without fear of retribution or fear of being sued by our former superintendent. A Google search will provide you with many articles documenting how other school districts across the country recovered taxpayer dollars when faced with similar circumstances.