(Update follows.) I was poking around at the Department of Family and Community Services for grins and giggles last week. I made a records request. I asked for a record of payments made to Debbie Heard, wife of occasional troublemaker, current lawsuit defendant and former State Rep. John Heard, in her capacity as a volunteer member of a voting committee at the agency. They told me my request would cost $70 to fill. I asked them to justify the expense.
This was their response.
Please note that this is an estimate. The records are maintained in two offsite storage units to which DFCS personnel will have to drive to and pull the records. They will have to locate the appropriate box for each payment. The information gathered from the storage units will have to be brought to the DFCS office, scanned, and then returned to the storage units. The estimated costs are broken down as follows: 1 hour driving to the storage units (2 round trips); four hours searching for/filing the records; and approximately one hour to make copies. The total was based on 6 hours of time, multiplied by $11.69–the hourly salary of the lowest paid full-time employee who has the necessary skill and training to perform the request. (See O.C.G.A. Sec. 50-18-71(c)(1)). As this is an estimate, the actual costs may vary. The time depends on how easy/difficult it is to locate the files, and it may also take less time to search. Nevertheless, our office will provide a breakdown of the actual costs in the invoice. DFCS has provided a reasonable, good-faith estimate.
This is the same process we use for all Open Records requests. As a member of the public, you have access to any public record that is not exempted from disclosure under the Act, or other state or federal law.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.
Deputy General Counsel
Department of Human Services
I know, I know. The state has cut the DFCS budget over the last five years, and it’s lost some federal funding. Times are tough, and there’s value in making sure costs are covered, even when people are looking for information for the public.
Still, never mind that it’s incredibly annoying that state agencies insist on presenting this kind of financial friction to keep ne’er-do-well journalists from poking around. What the hell kind of accounting system does DFCS use, that they can’t query Peoplesoft or its equivalent to figure out who has been getting paid how much for what? How much confidence should I have now that the agency has the appropriate accounting systems necessary to track what’s left of its budget?
(Update, July 19.)
Shan Momin sent a follow-up note yesterday:
Good afternoon, Mr. Chidi,
I want to follow up with you on your request from July 12 under the Open Records Act for records of payments by DFCS made to Debbie Heard. As previously mentioned in my email to you on 7/15, DFCS has records of these payments. The records include copies of invoices and checks. However, in a subsequent email, you requested a general ledger of these payments. Please be advised that DFCS does not maintain these payments as a line item on the general ledger. Ravae Graham, with the DHS Office of Legislative Affairs and Communications, attempted to contact you on Tuesday, July 13 to explain what DFCS could provide to you and left you a voicemail. In order to assist you in responding to your request for this information, DFCS has provided a list of the payments made to Debbie Heard. The list includes the vendor ID, vendor name, check number, check date, account (i.e., fund source), check amount, and a description field. The fund source indicates from whom the payment is made—either from the State of Georgia or Gwinnett County.
Please confirm if you still want any of this information. There will be no charge for the list as the time to retrieve this information was approx. 15 minutes. See O.C.G.A. Sec. 50-18-71(c)(1).