“The” Is a Dirty Word in Richmond

Our City Throws Away Emails Without Any Notice and Then Pretends It’s Not Their Fault

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Richmond sought and received a grant to pay for removing pollutants from Reedy Creek, never mind that the sediment traps in Forest Hill Lake already are removing those pollutants.  And never mind that they plan to dig up the part of Reedy Creek that now is helping to improve water quality.

It gets more interesting: DPU’s Grace LeRose is co-author of a PowerPoint that touts “Integrated Watershed Management” and suggests that we “Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.”  Yet DPU has not studied the environmental gain available from the upstream portion of Reedy Creek where the City’s efforts have exacerbated the problem that their present effort will not solve.  Another LeRose PowerPoint discusses “Stakeholder Involvement” that apparently never occurred.

I was curious enough about all this to send them a Freedom of Information Act request for, inter alia:

  • All records that evaluate or comment upon alternatives to the [Reedy Creek] project;
  • All records that disclose, or discuss the actual or potential disclosure, to the Department of Environmental Quality that some portion of the sediment and/or phosphorus to be removed from Reedy Creek by the project now is removed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake; and
  • All records that establish or comment upon the relationship of the Reedy Creek project and the goal of [the LeRose PowerPoint] in light of the existing sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake: Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.

No reply!

I’ve had problems in the past with the Richmond system blocking emails so I forwarded the requests to Mr. Todd of IT.  He has been helpful in the past with disappearing emails.

No reply.

At this point I should have sued them.  But lawsuits are disruptive and loaded with uncertainty.  Most annoying: I would have to pay income taxes on the attorneys’ fee award.

So I mailed a hard copy to the City Attorney.  Nine days later I got a helpful call from Dave Kearney, who has returned to the City Attorney.  He assembled the request and the (LeRose PowerPoint) attachments and got them to DPU.

Next day I received an email with a pdf of a letter from Susan McKenney, also with the City Attorney.

If I were to deal with all the outrageous statements in the McKenney letter, I’d have to write a treatise.  So I’ll stick to the really weird one:

We believe the City’s email filtering appliance likely intercepted the email intended for Mr. Steidel (and any of your subsequent attempts to forward or resend that email to Mr. Steidel, Mr. Todd, or Mr. Jackson) due the the appearance of the terms (sic) “porn,” “jerk,” and “the” [in the email].

McKenney has to say “likely” because the same primitive spam filter that purges the emails without notice to anybody deletes its logs after seven days.

Then we have those offensive “terms.”  They are in the signature that I put on my Verizon account some time back to warn unwary readers about my propensity to send out links (offensive terms hilighted here):

HEADS UP: I don’t think I’ve been hacked and I post only links that work and don’t seem to be dangerous. Even so, DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINK IN THIS (or any other) EMAIL. It’s just not safe. If what I say looks interesting, and you don’t mind some risk, open your browser, type in the address of the Web site in question, and drill down to the page in question. (It’s no accident that the address of my blog, calaf.org, is quite short and easy to type.)

For example, I recently sent the link http://www.techspot.com/news/59754-watch-300-android-phones-tablets-play-beethoven-ode.html. If you are interested, you can open your browser and type in techspot.com/news. (Obviously you won’t intentionally go to anyplace in China or Russia or to anything related to porn or gambling. And you WILL check the spelling and avoid obvious traps such as “Goegle” or “tachspot”) As I write this, the Techspot 300 android phones post is listed on the /news page. Later on when it’s been replaced by newer news, you can click the search button there and search for “beethoven.” Or just Google “android phones beethoven.”

I know, I know. It’s a lot of trouble. But then, if you click a bad link and some jerk gets your logon data and your banking password and your latest love notes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take the trouble.

So there you have it:

  • The City’s primitive and arbitrary spam filter blocks emails that contain offensive words such as “the”;
  • Any FOIA request that offends that filter gets deleted without notice to the sender or intended recipient;
  • Seven days later, they delete the logs so they can’t know what they have received or not;
  • The statute requires the City to respond to FOIA requests within five working days of receipt;
  • The City could not arbitrarily trash an email if it had not received that email;
  • The City cannot respond to a request it has trashed without notice to anybody; and
  • Poor Ms. McKenney caught the hot potato and had to embarrass herself by writing a letter that seeks to defend the City’s stupidity.

I like to say that Richmond is the second most embarrassing jurisdiction in the East.  It looks like they are bucking for first place.