Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DPS stonewalls again

The Mississippi Department of  refuses to answer whether Penny Corn is still employed at the agency. Ms. Corn served as the Grants Director at the Office of Homeland Security at DPS.  DPS settled a sex discrimination with Ms. Corn for $75,000 in April.  Numerous sources at DPS informed JJ that Ms. Corn was terminated last week.  JJ submitted the following public records request to Communications Director Warren Strain last week:

I am submitting a public records request under Section 25-61-5 of the Mississippi Code for the following records:

1. Is Penny Corn still employed by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety or any of its divisions or subordinate agencies?
2. What are the beginning and ending dates of her employment?
3. What is her current rank.

As you know, there are Ethics Commission and Attorney General opinions that state such information is a public record that must be disclosed upon request.

However, Mr. Strain chose to play word games and provided this response:

 Your request has come in the form of a series of questions. Section 25-61-1 does not address answering questions but only applies to records.

Cute.  Real cute.  However, the Mississippi Ethics Commission had something to say about such issues in a 2013 opinion:

2.1  The issues in this matter are whether (1) names and wage information and (2)time cards are subject to disclosure under the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983...

In addition to raising the personnel records exception in Section 25-1-100, the city claims it does not have “a single record with a list of employee names and wages for full-time and part-time employees in [the] Public Safety Communications Department” and is thus not required to provide any documents responsive to Williams’ request...

“Our [S]upreme[C]ourt has... held that compensation information of public employees, such as gross salary and accrued leave time, is subject to disclosure.”...

2.4 Here, the requestor made a request for an identifiable class of records – name and wage information concerning city employees for a specific period of time. This name and wage information cannot be shielded from production by a claim that it is not available on a single document. While the requestor could have utilized more exact phrasing in the public records request, the city could easily identify the class of records sought in the request. The city is obligated to produce records containing the names of its employees and the gross salary of those employees for the time period in question. See Wildlife, 740 So.2d at 936. To the extent the public records contain information that is exempt from disclosure, the city is required to “redact the exempted and make the nonexempted material available for examination.” Section 25-61- 5(2).

2.5 While a public body is not obligated to create a new record to satisfy a records request, sometimes it is easier for a public body to create a record responsive to the request rather than collecting and making available voluminous records that contain small pieces of the information sought by the requestor. The decision to create a new record is left to the discretion of the public body. If the city is considering creating a new record instead of disclosing the underlying records, it should obtain the consent of the requestor to ensure that the requestor is seeking the underlying records...

The opinion is pretty clear in stating that employment information such as term employed, rate of pay, and position are public records that are subject to disclosure.  However, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety tends to make up its own law, do things its own way, and thinks it is beholden to no one. The opinion was submitted to Mr. Stonewall Strain but JJ has received no response.


Anonymous said...

File an ethics complaint. Even if they provide you with the requested information, someone should be held accountable for the original response.

Anonymous said...

She is gone, and her staff has been rearranged as well. All for doing her job and notifying the Feds that there was an investigation into troopers writing ghost tickets. The grant guidelines clearly stated that it had to be reported. Wow fired for doing your job. That's a new one.

Anonymous said...

I saw Warren Strain in Madison Kroger last week. I did not know he was only 4'7" tall. No wonder he gives such cute responses - it's a behavior associated with the complex.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that the Administrative Law Judge dismissed all of the charges against the thieves, uh, Troopers who wrote bogus tickets and received overtime pay for it. Said there were no Policy Violations involved.

Anonymous said...

2:36, sadly law enforcement officers and judges, Justice Court, Court and Municipal Court normally have a very cozy relationship. The elected judges may depend on the local officers and deputies to get elected. Then the judges take care of the officers. May not be true in urban counties like Hinds.

Anonymous said...

@ 3.47 Municipal judges are appointed not elected. Know what you are talking about before you espouse on them.

Anonymous said...

No policy violations involved? Wonder what they have to do to violate policy? I would think falsifying records would be a violation.
Just goes to show how broken the who system is.

Anonymous said...

Broken system?

Or how incompetent the appointed administrative law judge that heard the case.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how one writes a "ghost" ticket. Doesn't the state do tickets electronically now, and doesn't there have to be a name, address, drivers' license number, court date, etc.? How are all these cancelled tickets explained, is there someone in the IT department cleaning the records? Also, since a traffic citation is basically an affidavit and record of the court couldn't his be approached as perjury? This whole thing stinks like southbound end of a northbound mule.

There are too many questions surrounding this situation, and it seems nobody has been punished except for the whistle blower. The highway patrol is as dirty as can be, why isn't the FBI's public integrity squad involved?

Anonymous said...

No matter what this judge says, this is Fed money and the US Attorney can step in anytime and go after these guys IF the chose to.

Anonymous said...

It is "alleged" (ha) that these officers wrote paper tickets and turned in a copy for the grant paperwork but didn't arrest anyone or turn any citations in to the courts. It couldn't get any easier for DPS to prove this! Ticket is with grant paperwork, ticket is NOT with the courts. There you have it. And before those who want to make excuses for the officers start up, it is allegedly multiple tickets over the last year or more. Obviously not a simple case of forgetting to turn one in.

Anonymous said...

Just Need. More. Muscles.

Anonymous said...

No doubt that if troopers filed false tickets to get paid the extra overtime, they should be punished. But wonder how many of the commentators on this subject have the same feeling about the guardsmen that received a reenlistment bonus that they were not entitled to. Not questioning those that were eligible, qualified and served the time, but those that were not or did not.

If it involves a theft of our federal tax dollars it should be dealt with and refunded - whether it is from these troopers or those guardsmen.

Anonymous said...

12:28 said, "Wow fired for doing your job. That's a new one." Not really. You've apparently never worked for the state.

Anonymous said...

9:23: They DID prove it, very easily. Slam dunk, black and white. Not a single soul at DPS believed they should or would keep their jobs. Then the judge stepped in and said there's nothing wrong with this, nothing to see here, no policy violation he can see, and let them go.

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