Broward News

Deerfield Housing Authority Wants $300,000 to Fill City's Records Request

Say what you will about the questionable contracting of staffers at the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority; at least they have a sense of humor. Because surely they're joking about demanding $300,000 from the city to cover the costs of filling records requests made by the forensic auditor reviewing the Housing Authority's practices.

Of course, the Housing Authority is under scrutiny in large part thanks to the investigative efforts of blogging activist Chaz Stevens, who discovered at least two instances in which the agency appears to have ignored its obligation to put contracts out to public bid.

Stevens was made a commissioner in April, only to be pressured into resigning in May, an event that interrupted his own efforts to find out about the agency's past.

During my conversation this week with Tom Connick, the attorney for Housing Authority Executive Director Pamela Davis, he told me that forensic auditor Michael Kessler's request was totally unreasonable, that the amount of labor necessary to fill it would force the Housing Authority to devote all of its limited resources to that single task, thereby causing services to Deerfield Beach clients to suffer considerably.

So I asked Connick what, in particular, was going to be so time-consuming. He told me that all the records requested will need to be redacted to protect Social Security numbers and the privacy of children, whose birth certificates must be filed with the Housing Authority as part of the qualification process.

I'm not an attorney, but isn't a contracted auditor like Kessler acting as an agent for the city, just as the Housing Authority is contracted by the city? In that case, there's no need to protect the contents of the file -- not anymore there's a need to protect them from the Housing Authority staff. Both that staff and Kessler, it seems, are under the same obligation to treat those bits of information as privileged and to keep it confidential. And Kessler's analysis does not depend on that information anyway.

It would be necessary to redact the files if they were released to the public; but that's not what the city's asking. It's asking the Housing Authority to release them only to Kessler. In that case, it's as simple as giving the guy a room and then occasionally hauling in records for his perusal. That shouldn't cost a dime, much less 300 grand.

The episode is yet another troubling sign that the Housing Authority has a guilty conscience. But it's absurd. And it's not going to work. Just fill the damn request and face the music.

I wonder how the Housing Authority arrived at the $300,000 number. We'll see if they can enlighten me later today. In the meantime, we'll let the recently resigned commissioner do the math. Per Stevens, here's what $300,000 buys you from the DBHA: 

Let's suppose that $200,000 went to labor and the other $100,000 to copies. Short staffed, the HA will need to hire out a Kelly Girl to do the redaction. Suppose that said redactor made $15/hr. Therefore with regards to the human end of things: 

$200,000 in labor at $15/hr = 13,333 hours 
13,333 hours at 40hrs/wk = 333 weeks 
333 weeks at 52wks/yr = 6.4 years 

Looking at the $100,000 in copy costs: 
 $100,000 at .15/page = 666,666 pages 
666,666 pages at 500page/ream = 1,333 reams of paper 
1,333 reams at 2"/ream = 2,666 inches tall 2,666 / 12 inches in a foot = 221 feet high 

Wow. Really? $300,000, in this example, buys you the services of a Kelly Girl for 6.4 years and a stack of paper 221 feet high.
So clearly the Housing Authority is pulling our collective leg.

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Thomas Francis