When it’s requested from North Miami City Clerk Michael A. Etienne, Esq.
After years of receiving complaints about the problems receiving public records from the Clerk’s Office, the City of North Miami now boasts on its website that it’s easier than ever to request public records.
When you click “here” you’re directed to this form:
Just saying, of course.
North Miami is not exactly the poster child for Government in the Sunshine. Requesting public records might be a snap, but getting them is a whole different matter.
Once you fill out the form and submit your request, the employees who work in the Clerk’s office do their best to fulfill your order. The problem is that they have no control over the various departments, especially the Police Department, to which the requests for records need to be routed.
Then the problems begin.
I recently made two requests for public records and I arranged for them to be picked up yesterday.
On April 11, 2014, I requested:
Copies of emails from City Clerk Michael Etienne to Police Chief Leonard Burgess from April 6, 2015 to the present.
After several follow up emails to Rafael Pedron in the Clerk’s office, he advised me on April 20, 2015 that “This request is currently being reviewed by the Attorney’s Office.”
On April 23, 2015, I received an email that my request was ready for pickup.
On April 16, 2015, I made a second request for the following documents:
1. Copies of all emails from NMPD Sergeant Rafael Estrugo and/or his representative to and/or from City Manager Aleem Ghany.
2. Copies of all emails from NMPD Sergeant Rafale Estrugo and/or his representative to and/or from Police Chief Leonard Burgess.
On April 23, 2015, it was “still being processed by the Police Department.”
On April 30, 2015, it was ready for me to pick up.
By that time, I was already entrenched in covering the city council elections for both North Miami Beach and North Miami, so I wasn’t able to obtain my documents until yesterday.
I wish I could tell you exactly what those documents say, but instead of hard copies of anything, I was given two CDs, one for each request. When I tried to open the documents, there were six files on one disc and two files on the other, all in a “.pst” format.
Yeah, I know, right? WTF IS A .PST FILE?
I’m pretty damn good on computers, but I had never before heard of a .pst file.
And so, I googled it to death.
I learned that a .pst file needs to be opened in Microsoft Outlook. Luckily, I have an Outlook account, so I opened the program and got to work.
I tried for well over an hour, but for the freaking life of me I could not open those damn files.
As a last resort, I sent the files to one of my peeps and asked him if he knew about .pst files. He wrote back:
It is an outlook backup. Open it through Microsoft outlook and it should ask you to restore the backup.
Explained: Microsoft Outlook automatically stores messages, contacts, appointments, tasks, notes, and journal entries in one of the following two locations: • In a personal storage folder, also known as a .pst file, on your hard disk drive.
Yeah, that helped.
I wrote back to him:
I’m so freaking illiterate when it comes to this. I have a laptop with outlook already set up. I downloaded the files, yet when I tried to open them, it says it must be opened from within outlook. I thought I was in outlook. WTF?
Thinking he was being even more helpful he wrote back:
There’s probably an import wizard… here’s a youtube step by step instruction “how to import pst file into outlook”.
Still clueless, I wrote back:
Trust me, I will get those files opened.
I have people for that.
But according to Florida Statute 119, Public Records, the public is entitled to copies of public records. I may not know how to open a .pst file … yet. But I know my rights.
One should not have to take a computer course in order to open a public records file!
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also knows my rights.
There’s also a Complaint Form for that.
In stark contrast, when requesting public records from the City of North Miami Beach, for example, this kind of crap doesn’t happen.
Unlike Michael Etienne, NMB City Clerk Pamela Latimore is not only a Certified Municipal Clerk, but she is the Southeast Director of the Florida Association of City Clerks to boot!
When I ask Ms. Latimore for public records, she understands exactly what I’m looking for, she provides them as quickly as possible, and they almost always are emailed to me in a .pdf format. I almost never have to schlep to North Miami Beach to pick up hard copies or useless CDs containing files that I can’t open.
Pamela also recently told me that there is usually no reason why most public records should have to be “reviewed by the Attorney’s Office” before being given to the public. Only records that involve the City Attorney’s Office need to be reviewed by the City Attorney!
If the excuse is that something must be redacted, Ms. Latimore advised me that this does not need to be done by the City Attorney because CERTIFIED MUNICIPAL CLERKS ARE TRAINED TO REDACT PUBLIC RECORDS!
And, yes. Pam Bondi is well aware of that, too.
The fact that it took me almost two weeks to obtain two simple public records, under the excuse that they had to be “reviewed by the Attorney’s Office,” is just further proof that the City of North Miami is still doing everything possible to keep public records from becoming public.
As for my last two requests, I know exactly what should be in those files. Unless City Clerk Michael Etienne, aided and abetted by his BFF Chief Lenny, is playing some kind of game to throw me off, when I finally open those files there should be no surprises.
But, exactly what documents are in those files, you ask?
Ah, that’s a question that will have to wait for another day.
As soon as I can open those damn files!
“Spreading the Wealth”