Since I rely less and less on Denver’s daily newspapers for news, this piece by Mike McPhee in the December 13th edition of the Denver Post slipped past me:
City Councilman Charlie Brown wants to know if a city agency leaked a personnel file to the media after an employee complained about a training video that has since been yanked.
Dennis Supple, a city maintenance worker, complained to Brown last month that a diversity training video portrayed a white man as a racist and sexist goof. Brown passed along the complaint, and the questionable video produced by Career Service Authority, the city’s human resource agency, was ordered removed by the mayor’s office on Nov. 27.
Three days later, KDVR-TV (Channel 31) reported that Supple had been fired by the city in 1999 for allegedly putting a knife to the throat of a Latino co-worker. The city rehired him in 2006.
Now Brown wants to know how the Fox station learned about Supple’s past. He filed an open-records request on Nov. 30 and last week received a sheaf of incomplete documents.
The documents do not include a formal request from the reporter for Supple’s personnel file under the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, although CSA records supervisor Peter Garritt said reporter Leland Vittert made a formal request.
The Denver Post also received a copy of Supple’s personnel file after filing a formal request.
The records given to Brown show 14 telephone calls were made between Vittert and CSA communications director Kathy Maloney during Nov. 26-30. The two also sent five e-mails to each other, including one from Maloney at 10:18 p.m. Dec. 1, the day Brown’s records request was received by the city.
On Nov. 27, Vittert e-mailed Maloney: “Does Dennis Supple still work for the city? Would it be possible to see his personnel file? I believe he worked in the HVAC group.”
The next day, Vittert sent Maloney an e-mail. “Are we going to be able to get mr supple’s records today. I am off the next two days and the story is kinda dead after the weekend. It would be great to do it today.”
Brown said Maloney’s supervisor, Garritt, told him that Maloney delivered the files to Vittert.
“Isn’t that a little cozy?” Brown asked. “And isn’t that pretty quick? Normally we have to wait 72 hours for them to respond (to records requests). And why did Maloney e-mail Vittert late Saturday night with the subject line reading ‘New Records Request’? That’s the day she received my records request.”
Okay. First of all, let me say that during my tenure with the city I was exposed to the best efforts of good people from the Career Service Authority to make sure I, as well as those with whom I worked, understood the mandates of politically correct dogma with regard to behavior in the workplace. Yes, I watched the videos; I participated in the workshops. But, hell, I’m a hugger. Always have been. And, in spite of all that video and all those workshops, not a day passed during my workday when I didn’t hug someone or pat someone on the shoulder. Hugging and patting were verboten in the workplace. Or, so said the human resources folks. But, I did it anyway. As did others. See, reasonably intelligent, well-meaning, dedicated public servants (in the private sector, as well) just simply intuitively know the bounds within which workplace behavior is acceptable…regardless of PC dogma. I guess it’d be correct to note that I took the human resources videos and workshops with a grain of salt…well-meant but not really relevant to the reality of interaction amongst workers who spent, most likely, more time with each other than they did with their families.
Yeah, I’ve strayed. Back to point.
Dennis Supple, a city employee, complained to Brown that a diversity video–apparently produced by the Career Service Authority–singled out a white guy as an ignorant oaf who perpetrated ghastly insensitivity upon his fellow workers…Latino or African-American or Gay or whatever. Well, the Hick and his minions apparently convinced (ordered?) the Career Service Authority to pull the video in response to Charlie Brown’s, um, outrage and the whole imbroglio caught the eye of a couple of reporters. Well, as is the want of good reporters, the question became: Who is this Supple guy? Ergo, a couple reporters asked to review Supple’s personnel file which, included in the excerpt above, revealed he had had some personnel difficulties himself in 1999.
So, ol’ Charlie Brown immediately sees a retaliatory conspiracy emanating at the Career Service Authority to soil Supple’s good name by providing the media with the “open record” of Supple’s personnel file.
Now, there is a State Statute (24-72-201) that deals with “open records.” I won’t bore you with the details, but, basically, any governmental entity in Colorado that is presented with an “open records” request–under the provisions of the statute–has 72 hours to either comply or state a reason (as enumerated in the statute) why compliance will not be forthcoming. Suffice it to say, the statute provides essential transparency to the workings of government for those who have a need to know, or are just nosy. The statute also provides a definition for the “custodian” of records.
So, through the Career Service Authority’s communications director, Supple’s personnel data was communicated to a reporter. One supposes the CSA’s communications director obtained the data she passed on to the reporter from the “custodian” of those records who, in this case, would appear to be the records supervisor, Peter Garritt.
This is getting boring, isn’t it. Well, just a wee bit to go…
Charlie Brown’s frenzied outrage with CSA’s release of records to the media appears to center on two things: He claims no “formal” request came from the first reporter and, secondly, that the information was forthcoming prior to the 72 hour statutory time limit.
Methinks, so what!
I had an unofficial policy when I was with the city that everything we did was an “open record;” that if someone wanted to see a record for which I was the “custodian,” then there wasn’t any need for an official request; there wasn’t any need for a 72 hour waiting period. Come on down, the requester would be told. Take a look. We’ve got nothing to hide. Bear in mind, however, that I was conversant with the state statute on open records and understood the necessity that caution was required when the subject-matter concerned, for example, attorney-client privilege (which, as I understand it, must eventually be revealed–most likely by subpoena), or some categories of so-called “work product” that is specifically excluded as “open record” by the statute. But, 99.9% of the time, if somebody wanted to look over our shoulder they were invited to do just that. Again, no formal request. No 72 hour waiting period.
I do believe that when it comes to personnel file data, it is prudent to require an “official” request–per the statute–from inquiring parties. Personnel file data is, well, personal kind of stuff and any requests to view the same should be carefully handled…by someone who is fully versed on the provisions of the statute. If I fault the Career Service Authority for anything, it would be the appearance that no “official” open records request was forthcoming from the initial reporter.
But, listen, Charlie: You got your shorts all bunched up in what appears to me to be an effort to look like some kinda hero; some kind of Don Quixote, windmill battling, man-of-the-people kinda conspiracy theory Peter Boyles lookalike, who, in this case, appears to be grandstanding just for the sake of grandstanding. Sure, you may not be that happy with the Career Service Authority and may be looking for any little opportunity to bare your claws and take a swipe at that agency, but, listen, aren’t there more pressing issues you could spend you day on? Does the weal of the people strike a chord? I mean, well, is this crusade you’ve embarked on really worth the effort? Do you really believe CSA employees were motivated by retribution against Mister Supple simply because he questioned the apparently ill-conceived video produced by CSA?
‘Course, Charlie probably thinks his cause is noble. Gives you an insight into Charlie’s psyche. Ah, Charlie, you’re such a clown…in a Stetson.