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9/19/2018 Republican Leader Patricia Morgan Calls for Transparency and Accountability
Attorney General’s Office Triples the Cost to Produce Documents
Using Every Tactic to Keep Documents Hidden: Why?
House Republican leader Patricia Morgan is announcing her intention to return to Superior Court to challenge the Attorney General’s handling of her Access to Public Records Request (APRA).
Since the Parkland shooting in February of this year, Leader Morgan has been attempting to obtain information from the Attorney General’s office concerning the spending of the $230 million Google settlement. Her goal is to use some of the funds to help schools upgrade security measures in their buildings.
The AG’s office has consistently thwarted Leader Morgan’s attempts and this week erected another barrier.  The Attorney general’s office wrote on Monday, September 17, that they had consumed the original $3750 that Morgan had paid to the office for documents and are now requesting between $4000 to $8000 in additional payments.
From the letter: As this Office indicated on numerous prior occasions, the 200 hours of estimated/pre-paid search and retrieval was a “conservative” estimate, which this Office has now exceeded.  If you wish to continue the search and retrieval for documents responsive to your March 1, 2018 APRA request, additional pre-payment is required.  While extremely difficult to estimate the amount of time required to complete review of your APRA request because of the breadth of your APRA request, this Office estimates that search and retrieval could take another 250-500 hours.  Again, this estimate is believed to be conservative since many of the more difficult records to search have yet to be retrieved.  Since you have requested records electronically, kindly remit pre-payment in the amount of hours you wish this Office to search at $15.00 per hour.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-4.
The original $3750 has garnered only invoices for years 2013 through 2016.  Many of these documents show limited information. Invoice and project numbers have been redacted that make organizing and understanding the connection between documents difficult and tedious.
“It appears that every document contains redactions, in many cases of the most mundane information.  I can only surmise that the Attorney General’s goal was to give me as little value as possible for the money I have supplied. Each redaction takes time and I have no doubt that they employed the tactic liberally in order to make each document take extra time. I have received no documents related to 2017-2018 or the new Background check building. There are no emails associated with the invoices, no RFP’s, no Needs Assessments that indicate the wholesale need to replace the entire computer system, purchase high end tablets with accessories, purchase lapel pins with AG Kilmartin’s name on them, or build an entirely new building to process background checks.
“The Attorney General has supplemented his regular budget with a large, but because of partial records impossible to determine, amount of funds for operating costs.  He has used the funds to pay his electric, heating, water, sewer and telephone bills; to wash windows, sweep a non-existent parking lot, hire plumbers to fix a faulty toilet chain and unplug a clogged kitchen sink, among many other maintenance and utility costs.
“Operating expenses were expressly excluded from accepted uses of the Google Settlement funds. Their inclusion brings up several other questions.  What justification did the Attorney General give to the US Department of Justice to use them for on-going expenses? What did he use the regular funds in his budget for?
“We also seek all communications with the US Department of Justice to discover his argument for using the money for an expressly prohibited purpose.  We will also investigate his use of regular funds; the Attorney General’s budget has not decreased due to the addition of Google funds to pay the operating expenses of the Office. Where did that money go?
“I must return to Superior Court to argue this blatant attempt of the Attorney General to hide his use of the Google funds from the public. It is clear to me that he is employing every possible tactic to prevent a thorough examination of his actions. This cannot be allowed.  The Google money is double the amount of money that was involved in 38Studios. The public deserves to understand how it was spent.
“I was difficult for me to pay the original $3750 from my own funds.  I felt it was necessary because the Attorney General’s office, knowing my time in office is limited, was using an arsenal of tactics to slow the process and prevent the release of the documents.  I am disturbed, and every Rhode Islander should be alarmed, that they have not only provided so few documents responsive to my request, but are no demanding double to triple that amount of money with no assurances that all documents will be released.
“I will once again ask the Superior Court to waive the fees for the production of documents.  It is within the Court’s power to bring sunshine to the use of the Google funds, which have been spent with no meaningful oversight or accountability.
“If the Courts do not rule in my favor, I will be establishing a GoFundMe page to help with the cost. I hope other concerned citizens will help me defray the cost of making all the documents public.  The page is entitled: Google Settlement Transparency.
“My time in office has convinced me that whenever government creates a pool of money, insiders put their hands in it. Those in charge will go to great lengths to hide its misuse. 38Studios is instructive. Democrats have circled their wagons around the Attorney General’s office. No elected official has joined me in calling for the release of the documents. It appears that The Office of the Attorney General means to wait me out, knowing my time in office is now limited.  It is alarming. But there are other good, principled Republicans who are willing to take up the charge. I hope voters will elect these candidates so this investigation can continue.

For more information, contact:
Gregory Zervos, House Minority Office
State House Room 106
Providence, RI 02903