After the city of Memphis blew off our previous FOIA request for security camera footage from the pound, the request was amended.  I should explain that the previous request was for 3 days worth of footage but only from 10 specific cameras so, had it been fulfilled as required by law, it would have amounted to less discs than the February 7 request.  With the amended request, the number of discs was pared down even further, with only 2 days requested from 10 cameras.  I was anticipating a significantly reduced fee for this footage in comparison with the $200 the city charged for the February 7 footage, which included all 48 cameras in the building (since we didn’t know what each showed and the city wouldn’t tell us).

Today I received the billI’m telling you now, don’t be taking a swig of any beverage you don’t want to be cleaning off your monitor in 5 seconds.

Per the city attorney, we have to come up with $800 for 2 days worth of  footage from 10 cameras.  This is less than half the discs requested for the February 7 footage yet instead of charging half the fee, they are charging four times the fee.

I don’t know that it’s worth it to pay this and here’s why.  We already have ample video evidence of neglect and abuse from the February 7 footage and it has been completely ignored by the interim director, the mayor and everyone else involved with MAS.  They obviously do not care about animals being hurt by their employees.  How much good is it reasonable to expect we might accomplish by obtaining additional evidence?

On the other hand, I am all for transparency and the right of the people to hold their government accountable.  And I consider this to be a group decision since it would be the group paying the fee so I’m putting it out there for your opinion.  Do you think obtaining additional FOIA footage from MAS is worth $800?

I hope to pre-emptively quash any talk of “The $800 could be better spent on X, Y or Z”.  This is not a valid argument.  If we raise $800 for the FOIA request, it’s going to come from a large number of contributors who specifically want to see the footage.  It can not be legitimately argued that all these same people would have each contributed the same amount if we were collecting for X, Y or Z.  Please consider whether you feel the FOIA fee is worth paying based upon the merits of the footage itself and not how the money could potentially be otherwise spent.

If we decide as a group to go ahead with this, I will set up a ChipIn.  (Assuming ChipIn goes that high – sheesh.  Hopefully they don’t have a what-you-talkin-bout-Willis limit on the site.)  But as of right now, there is no ChipIn for the FOIA request – it’s merely up for discussion.  I don’t want anyone to be confused by the previous post which is aimed at raising $60 for the WordPress video fee for the blog.

Lastly, as a point of reference, the video footage request falls under the TN Open Records Act and the section describing “reasonable costs” begins on page 2 of the document.

47 thoughts on “Shakedown

  1. I think I would be happy to chip in for a much larger amount to start looking for an attorney to haul all their sorry asses into court, but I think $800 for video footage from fewer cameras is criminal.

    1. I agree, how about a chip in to hire an attorney to question how they justify this fee, and examine whether they are actually complying with the law?

      1. I agree with Laura. How much more footage of employees hanging puppies and dragging dogs is needed? And I hate to line the pockets of the same government that is systemically (and systematically) abusing the animals, already on the public dime.

  2. I’m 2 sided on this issue but I do lean to a “don’t pay”. I do believe this should be reported to the TN State Attorney Office because I don’t think $800 can be considered “reasonable”. It seems to me that the City of Memphis is trying very hard to discourage people from filing FOIA requests.
    Another interesting aspect:


    Under the FOIA it is possible to have all fees, including copying, waived by the agency if the material requested “is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” If your request fits this statutory criterion, you should make your case for a fee waiver in your request letter as strongly as possible. Be sure to describe the scholarly, historical, or current public interest in the material requested, identify specific operations or activities of government to which the request relates, why the information will contribute to an understanding of those activities and operations, why the public in general would be interested, and why the disclosure would be significant.

  3. Extortion. The entire city government is out of control. We know there is great abuse and have the images to prove this. We know the government “leaders” have no interest in change for the better and scoff at higher ideals. I believe funds are better spent on legal action. Or a billboard..

  4. I want that footage. And the more they don’t want me to have it, the more I wonder what they’re working so hard to hide (again).

    I agree that we should find out why there is the discrepancy in costs between the two and see if we can get it down to a less unreasonable fee.

    But “oh, we don’t have that footage anymore” and “now it will cost you a buttload of money” is ample evidence of their game playing and I do not like it.

    We get the footage and we call them on their bullshit.

  5. Are they using blind chimps for this job? Why the hell does it take 16+ hrs to transfer some files to disk. I call bullshit (there really is no other word).

    However – to me, this seems like a last ditch effort to hide something. I absolutely will donate to this chip-in. This screams coverup, no?

    My other thought is that one day of video pre-retraining can be more easily ignored – two follow up days showing the same treatment post-retraining simply cannot – and thoroughly deflates the argument that you can train these folks to be compassionate.

    Don’t let them off so easily.

      1. I realize the “working” areas would be inaccessible, but it would still make a statement. Btw, I totally agree with Ona – set it up, and go from there. And if there are additional FOIA requests to be made, make them. We’ll deal with the bills as they come. At this point we only need 50 people to drop $16 in the bucket. Totally doable.

        If I was controlling their end, I wouldn’t have charged you any more than I had to if the footage was clean. To charge such an amount, to me speaks volumes about what the City of Memphis expects us to find. If anything, this unreasonable request on their part makes me even more anxious about what’s going on at MAS.

    1. Oh – and if you haven’t already, I STRONGLY recommend notifying as much media as possible about this latest twist.

      Memphis folks – can I suggest that a group of you trek down to MAS with video device in hand? Perhaps filling the facility with videographers from one end to the other will convince them that following the law is the easier solution.

      1. My understanding is that the public is only allowed in designated areas and that a security code is required to enter each room. It seems as if there are a large number of stray dogs kept out of the public’s view.

  6. I will chip in a significant amount toward the $800. Memphis thinks they can hide their malfeasance by throwing up this barrier. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s show them that they can’t hide the abuse and corruption.

    I would be happy to chip in toward legal fees if we can find a pro bono attorney to attack this ridiculous charge, but that won’t help the pets. Putting up the videos rattled a lot of cages. The media coverage, training classes, arrests, etc were all influenced by the previous videos. I’m sure that if asked Rogers would say that everything is fine now. Let’s show the world whether that’s true.

    I think this effort is on a roll. More video will build on that momentum. The media will eat it up. The previous videos are old news. New videos are news.

  7. ooooh, I thought I had a decision in my mind, but after reading the above, I’m with the others in paying the outrageous $800 fee, and strongly support the idea of requesting the Fee Waiver. It seems like they are ‘jacking around’ with the exhorbitant fee in order to make ‘us’ go away. I’ll contribute to the chip-in for this.

  8. Set up the chip in! I dont care if it is for hiring an attorney or for requesting the information. Lets also submit a FOIA request for all correspondence relating to the issuing of this preposterous bill.

    1. You’re right Ona. Correspondence related to this charge of request also. Someone does not want us to know anything.

      1. On the other hand they could have multiplied by four the original $200 instead of dividing. Judging by MAS math was never their strong suit anyway.

  9. And what is the goal of the videos? The administration seems to think it’s a “gotcha” sensationalistic thing. But the goal is shelter *reform*. Change. Improvement. Ending the cruelty, abuse, neglect, and apathy.

    The videos are a useful tool to that end. They don’t get to hide the truth behind a pile of cash. Not this time, anyway.

  10. I’ll leave this discussion open until at least noon Eastern to give our friends on the west coast a chance to wake up. I’ll post a follow up after that.

  11. I’m with setting up the chip-in… I believe they have plenty to hide.. hence the higher price… I don’t get paid until the 3rd of the month, but count me in for a few bucks.
    I want them exposed.
    I am not going away

  12. In light of the very good comments above, I am adjusting my original opinion. Set up the chip-in. Also request a waiver. Also notify appropriate media and whoever on the state level would be responsible for local level oversight of governmental abuse. And set up a chip-in for legal help too. I don’t have much, but I can put at least $10 in each.

    1. Requesting a waiver is a good thing, but I’m afraid it will just be a excuse for more delay. They will deny the waiver. We can appeal. A pro bono attorney could take the case to the Supreme Court. And we still won’t have any videos. Pets will still suffer and die.

      Let’s not loose track of the real goal, end the suffering. $800 is a small price to pay for saving hundreds or thousands of lives.

      My suggestion is to pay the $800 for the current request. Then file another request asking for the waiver. That gets the videos now and starts the process of establishing the precedent that these requests should be free. That should scare the h*ll out of the powers that be.

      1. Yep, that’s what I say. And I would be thrilled to chip in to expose the creetons abusing dogs & cats at any price.

  13. I was going to post what else can we learn, but the other posts influenced me. It makes me wonder if there is something specific on this particular day that they want to cover up. This is for footage after the training, right? What if there is retaliation for the humiliation the workers suffered on the tape. I say go for it – I can chip in something (and yes chip ins can go a lot higher then 800). I also think looking into why the fee is so much higher is a good idea but have no idea where to start with that.

      1. I wonder if this could be used as a possible conspiracy to hide abuse charge? (whatever the legal term would be). That they knew something illegal was going on and tried to cover it up.

  14. I want to know, exactly WHO ends up with $800.00? Sounds like the Mayor and his buddies are lookin’ for a night on the town….

    1. Is this document out of date?

      If a record custodian’s actual costs are higher than those reflected above, the custodian may develop its own charges. The custodian must establish a schedule of charges documenting “actual cost” and state the calculation and reasoning for its charges. A schedule of charges without this analysis is insufficient.

      and Labor Threshold is in that doc too, but it sounds like an add on not a discount. I am not a lawyer so some of this doesn’t make sense to me.

      1. I think once we have the footage we should see about getting a lawyer. It looks like they might be able to justify charging $50 an hour but “A records custodian shall utilize the most cost efficient method of producing the requested records.” If they took less then 16 hours to do the other request then they didn’t use the most cost efficient method this time. But I don’t know how much is provable and how much is “we all know what happened but you can’t do anything about it legally”

  15. The city already set the precedent for fees with their first response. Figure the same amount per camera and tell them what the fee should be based on their previous rate. See if you can get a judge to have them hold those particular tapes until this can be worked out, otherwise they will be taped over. FOIA requests are not meant to be a cash business. I will chip in for a normal fee rate. Just when I think the city has fallen to it’s lowest level they manage to lower the bar even further. Wonder if they’ll stop when they hit China?

      1. This is what I found

        “Labor threshold” for a records custodian in a department with a staff of twenty (20) or fewer employees is defined as the labor of the employee(s) reasonably necessary to produce requested material for the first two (2) hours incurred by
        the records custodian in producing the material. For a records custodian in a department with a staff of more than twenty (20) employees, the “labor threshold” is defined as the labor of the employee(s) reasonably necessary to produce requested material for the first four (4) hours incurred by the records custodian in producing the material.

        Which sounds like a surcharge, not a discount. It also says if they deviate from the costs given that they need to document how and why or it is not valid.

  16. So let me get this straight. If I do the math, they are having a staff member who makes $104,000 a year to do the copying?

    1. Regarding the Feb. 7 footage request (the old one which covered 48 cameras) – The city stated that it would take approximately 4 hours to copy the DVDs at a rate of $50.06/hr. They also charged 45 cents per DVD. The total tab came to around $200.

      So now it’s going to take 4X as long to do half the work.

  17. Do we have anyone in Memphis who is willing to go in person to camp out and watch the videos, making notations of specific timeframes needing coping? It seems they cant charge for viewing the records

  18. I am worried that they will tape over that day in question. Their higher fees are a definite red flag that there is something suspicious on those tapes, imo. A**holes.

  19. Yes, do a chip-in and get more footage. When this continued exposure makes them capitulate, they can also pay back the $$$ perhpaps, which can go to a rescue.

    That’s my take – many will contribute, let’s get it! Those a-holes WILL be shamed eventually, and will have to answer for their actions, inactions, duplicity and all-around ‘moron-ness’. (And I am talking about EVERYONE who is complicit – shelter staff, rescue group, mayor, et al.) Sorry to say it, but probably the planet – and definitely the animals – would be better off if they disappeared off the face of the earth.

  20. Don’t spend it on the footage. Raise a little more, hire a lawyer who will go after their outrageous overcharging in an effort to block what the public has a right to know, and set a precedent for the future.

    Then set up a second much smaller chip in for the footage.

    1. This is what I would say too. The more you pay to them originally, the higher up they think they will go in the future. There will be no limit.

  21. They are setting roadblocks & delays at every turn. It’s not the money they are interested in, but the delay or refusal to pay they are after. Legal action is necessary to fight them, as we have all seen how far bitchin’ about it has helped any dog or cat.

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