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China Hub Commission stalling tactics

by Craig Cheatham

KMOV.com

Posted on August 24, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:25 AM

(KMOV) -- Eight days ago, I requested copies of reports filed by highly paid consultants for the Midwest China Hub Commission. Kathryn Jamboretz, the Vice President of Marketing & Communications for the St. Louis County Economic Council told me to send the request to her. So, I did.

Previously, we got copies of the consultant contracts. One group, London Export, has a $450,000 a year contract with the commission. The contract is paid with a federal government grant, which means all of us are paying for the consultant's expenses. London Export is viewed as the "ice breaker" for the project. In other words, the company opens doors in China, helping to establish relationships with government officials and businesses. London Export's Stephen Perry is widely considered the "point man" on the project, at least overseas.

After viewing the consultant contracts, I wanted to see how the consultants were spending that money. Our money. So, 8 days ago, I sent the following request: "KMOV requests copies of all reports, including expense reports, and other records provided by consultants to the Midwest China Hub Commission. These consultants are London Export, Spectrum, Aerostrata and Stone/Leyton and Gershman. In addition, we request copies of any audits performed at the request of the Commission showing how these consultants spent taxpayer's money."

Today, 8 days after we filed our initial request for information, the China Hub Commission insists that we file the same request under the Missouri Sunshine Law, even though Jamboretz  admitted having the records in front of her. For the record, Jamboretz has never insisted that I file requests for information under the Missouri Sunshine Law. In fact, I obtained the consultant contracts, an annual report from the RCGA, and other information without doing so.
 
But this time was different. So, I sent the request with changes aimed at getting some of the information before Christmas. Here's part of the request:
 
"In an effort to get these records as soon as possible, I am requesting copies of all audits of the consultants work and expenses. These audits should not contain any personal information that needs to be redacted. The audits should be available immediately.
 
Next, KMOV requests copies of the reports filed in 2011 by London Export, and any documents (excluding audits) prompted by the 2011 London Export reports. When those reports are provided, I request to receive copies of the reports filed in 2011 by Spectrum, and any documents (excluding audits) prompted by the 2011 Spectrum reports. After I receive the 2011 reports filed by London Export and Spectrum, I would like to receive copies of the other reports.
 
During our previous conversation about these reports, you told me there would be "no charge" for copies. I trust the commission will honor that promise."
 
We'll apparently that wasn't good enough either.
 
After receiving my request, Jamboretz tells me I need to send it directly to Andrew Ruben, General Counsel for the Economic Council.
 
Really?
 
I may be getting a little paranoid at this point, but this looks like a blatant stalling tactic. It also feeds China Hub critics who believe the project's supporters aren't being upfront about everything.
 
Why would the China Hub Commission mess around with my request now? Maybe the Commission doesn't want people to see how the consultants are spending that money until after the Missouri legislature's special session, which begins next week. The legislature is expected to approve $360 million in tax incentives for the China Hub/Aerotropolis project. 
 
Jamboretz even told me that I hadn't asked for audit reports in my first request, even though I did. As I wrote 8 days ago, "we request copies of any audits performed at the request of the Commission showing how these consultants spent taxpayer's money." "This is the first I've heard about audits," Jamboretz told me today.
 
Really?
 
It's come to this?

UPDATE: On Thursday, the day after the Hub Commission insisted that I refile the request under the Missouri Sunshine Law, I interviewed Mike Jones, the group's Chairman. Jones admitted that it was his decision to make me refile the request. I told him it was an "abuse" of the process, and that any request for information must receive the same attention as one identified as a "Sunshine" request. He disagreed and stands by his decision.

We aren't finished with this this thing yet.

UPDATE: On Friday, I called the Attorney General's office to file a complaint against Mike Jones and the Midwest China Hub Commission because I believe he violated the Missouri Sunshine Law. The law never mentions that you must specificallt request a document by citing the law by name, which is something he demanded 8 days after receiving my initial request for records. Here's the exact language of the law: 

"When a request is made for access to a public record, the records custodian must allow access as quickly as possible, but no later than the end of the third business day following the date of the request. Records must be provided in the format requested, when available.

If access to a public record is not granted immediately, the records custodian must explain why the record cannot be produced without delay and give the place and time the record will be made available (Section 610.023.3). There may be times when, for example, a request is made for an old record that is stored in a different location or will take time to research, locate or reproduce. In such instances, when reasonable cause for delay is explained, the period for producing the record may exceed three business days."

Clearly, there is no requirement to state that the request is being filed under the Missouri Sunshine Law. So, today I filed the complaint, and I plan to use the information in a story about the highly paid China Hub consultants.

UPDATE: Monday, August 29. I got a response to my records request today. Andrew Ruben, General Counsel  for the St. Louis Economic Development Council, wrote the letter on behalf of the Midwest China Hub Commission. In this link you can read his letter and the emails he sent that I exchanged with Kathryn Jamboretz, the Council's Vice-President of Marketing and Communications. Ruben also sent me copies of general audits of the Commission, even though we specifically requested copies of audits of consultant's work done by the Hub Commission.

Ruben is charging us $667.15 for what he says is about 1,000 pages of material. Last week, Jamboretz told me she already had 750 pages of records available that met our request, but that I needed to file the request again and use the words "Sunshine Law" to identify it as an official open records request.

In the records sent by Ruben, and the language in the Missouri Sunshine Law, it's clear the Hub Commission, and it's Chair Mike Jones, violated the Sunshine Law and the policy of the Midwest China Hub Commission by refusing to honor my intial request. On page 2, Section 3, sub section B of the "policy of the Economic Council of St. Louis County regarding meetings and records," it never mentions that the request must mention the Sunshine Law by name, and it shouldn't.

In fact, based on our intial response we met the conditions of the policy and open records law governing the way the Hub should have responded. Mike Jones told me he made the decision to ignore my request and force me to file it again. So, Jones is the one who violated his policy and the law. In addition, under my original request, the General Counsel was supposed to send me a response "in no event later than the end of the third business day following the date a request was received." That didn't happen either.

This is petty and just a really bad decision by Jones, who apparently feels empowered to do whatever he wants to delay releasing public documents. These records may provide invaluable insight into the way China Hub consultants do their work, and how the Hub Commission reviews that work, if it does any review at all.

And now, for the first time, the Midwest China Hub Commission wants to charge us seemingly as much as possible for these records.

Really?

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