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5 ways McKinney, TX showed there's no 'free' in Freedom of Information

June 30, 2015  |  4 min read

Cooper gif 3

By now, you've likely heard of the disgraced Texas cop, Eric Casebolt, who pulled his gun on a group of kids to break up a community pool party.

Well now the other jaw has dropped.

On the heels of Casebolt's suspension from the McKinney PD, Gawker, the celebrity gossip blog, submitted a Public Information Act request for records and any emails sent or received by PD employees relating to the officer's conduct.

The letter city attorneys at Brown & Hofmeister sent to Gawker in response begins innocuously enough:

"After consulting with various personnel and estimating the amount of time needed to compile the requested information, the city anticipates that the cost for gathering the information you seek will exceed forty dollars. (emphasis added)"

Fair enough. We're talking about potentially hundreds of emails. This could cost...



Now McKinney, Texas, home to 150,000 people, isn't a one horse town. But it is, evidently, a one computer town. More on this in a second...

Below we examine the five most startling aspects of the city's response, which you can read in full here.

1. City attorneys estimate it will take more than a year to 'access and copy' information

Gawker requested all emails relating to Casebolt's conduct dating back to 2005, when he joined the department. City attorneys, in turn, estimated that it would take 2,231 hours for "programming personnel to execute an existing program or to create a new program so that requested information may be accessed and copied" -- to the tune of $63,000.

Do the math: 2,231 hours break down to 278 eight-hour days. Let's say city employees get 10 federal holidays a year and two weeks vacation. And let's assume they're not spending a third of that time on Facebook. We're talking 13 solid months for a "programmer" making $28.50 to... what, run a few keyword searches?

2. The phrase "execute an existing program or create a new one" 

First of all, how could it take 2,231 hours to execute a program that already exists?

Second, this is the ultimate in reinventing the wheel. Here's the gist of the city's problem: it needs to convert a bunch of legacy data into a format that can be searched. There are hundreds of readily available, off-the-shelf products and services that perform this function. Some are cloud-based, accessible from anywhere and perform the processing automatically for a flat fee. Hell, we offered our services for free. Suggesting that a "new program" must be developed internally is not unlike commissioning a blacksmith to forge a samurai sword so you can cut your dinner steak.

3. City admits archived public records aren't actually available to public

Every few years, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission publishes a 50-something page records retention schedule binding local authorities to save their email under threat of criminal punishment. This is serious stuff, and it's a hallmark of a healthy democracy. US citizens have a right to know how people whose salaries their tax dollars are paying conduct their work affairs.

Well, in theory.

McKinney attorneys admit in their letter to Gawker that email records maintained by McKinney PD prior to March 2014 "are not in a format that is searchable by City Personnel."

That statement, in itself, is enough to debunk the notion of freedom of information (the $79,000 tab will also do the trick). What's the point of preserving records that aren't available for the very reason you preserved them?

4. City attorneys commendably secure 1978 doc review rates 

Let's give credit where credit's due. While McKinney attorneys may have fudged the "programmer" time a bit, they did, at $15/hr, lock in the cheapest doc review rates this side of Mt. Pleasant. To appreciate the irony here, one must understand that document review -- or what McKinney attorneys have described as "locat[ing] and compil[ing] records (and) redact[ing] confidential information" -- generally consumes by far the biggest chunk of legal document productions. This is because attorneys, or others trained to identify confidential or otherwise privileged information, must -- in lieu of some kind of predictive analysis -- rifle document-by-document through reams of files to determine what sensitive bits should be withheld.

Most estimates suggest document review consumes about 70 percent of the total cost of the document gathering and production process. McKinney attorneys think the city can do the job for $660. Hmm...but consider the final bill. Something isn't adding up here. Maybe it has something to do with charging $15,000 to operate a computer...

Wait WHAT?


5. Computer "resource charge" will cost $14,726 

Yep. In the city's words, this is the "Computer Resource Charge to cover the actual time a computer resource takes to execute a particular program times the applicable rate." 6,694 hours at $2.20 per.

But to be fair, this isn't any computer, um, "resource."


Robert Hilson is a director at Logikcull. He can be reached at Lisa Mares, attorney for McKinney, Texas, can be reached at Sabrina Boston, McKinney Police Department Public Information Officer, can be reached at