Five Reasons to Believe DeKalb Tried to Hide DOJ Communications about Website Compliance Issues

Mayor John Rey had a guest column in the Chronicle this week. As is par for the course with City of DeKalb administrations, he calls criticism of the city’s actions “misinformation” and “rumors.”

There are two reasons people are upset. One is evidence that the city withheld information about the U.S. Department of Justice evaluation of DeKalb’s compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. The other is the manipulation of information to create anxiety over a DOJ deadline, which enabled the proposal of a no-bid contract with an overly expensive, non-local, sole-source website designer that the city manager likes.

We’ll discuss the first reason today. Mayor Rey, after you:

I hope members of the community will share accurate information about the Department of Justice timeline and refuse to perpetuate any rumors stating that the city attempted to hide any earlier notice from the Justice Department specifically regarding website issues.

Rumors, eh? Here are five facts making it reasonable to believe the city has indeed tried to hide the DOJ notices as well as related documents:

1. Even though the city has finally posted the original July 2013 notice of review by DOJ and the settlement agreement (in force since February 3), it has so far failed to post notifications sent in October and December that the mayor referred to in the column.

2. I have been trying to get documents related to communications between City of DeKalb and DOJ since mid-February. At this point the city has labeled my latest request as “voluminous” and is insisting on sending me thousands of documents I have told them I don’t want included (and that they can’t possibly want to inspect and redact). What other reason would the city want to play it this way, except to try to delay release as long as possible or to try to conceal something within a ton of clutter?

3. City council did not approve the settlement agreement in an open meeting, so its provisions remained secret until one of them — the horrible awful short compliance deadline! — became useful for leveraging the website deal.

4. The city’s settlement agreement with DOJ was not included with the backup materials for the February 9 meeting when the website deal was discussed, nor was any formal agreement with DOJ mentioned in the staff memo explaining the deadline.

5. During the February 9 meeting, beginning at approximately 8:47 p.m., council members began asking about negotiating a “slightly later” deadline with DOJ and the staff responded as if this were possible, saying the city attorney could “reach out to DOJ tomorrow.” He couldn’t. The settlement agreement had been signed secretly by the city attorney January 12 and openly by DOJ February 3. It was a done deal, though council didn’t seem to understand this — perhaps due to Fact 3.

So there you have it: evidence of systematic suppression of information. And this is just the DOJ-related side of things — there’s plenty more when you look at the website developer deal itself. For example, during that February 9 meeting, several council members expressed interest in starting with a “band-aid” approach to comply with website accessibility standards immediately, which would then allow them time to shop around in a less-stressed fashion for a better deal on the redesign. One alderman even asked explicitly how much the “band-aid” would cost (8:26 p.m.).

But though city staff had received a detailed, 20+ page response from a potential vendor that estimated compliance would cost a mere 54 hours and $8,100, they did not see fit to volunteer the information.

Why would they hide the estimate? Because the $8,100 lies well within the city manager’s spending authority for goods and services. She could have just signed the contract and the “band-aid” job would be finished by now. Obviously, that is not what she wanted.