MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has asked the Vermont Press Bureau to withdraw its standing public records request for tens of thousands of emails the administration sought to delete, citing the cost and time required to fulfill it.
Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Darren Springer, the governor’s chief of staff, made the request Monday. The administration released the first batch of about 5,500 pages of emails last week that were sent and received by five former staff members.
The first release of emails required about 200 hours of staff time to complete. Coriell said the cost of releasing the first batch of emails amounted to $5,300, but the administration is not seeking payment.
However, Coriell and Springer said the administration cannot commit staff members to the task of reviewing and redacting the remaining emails and would need to hire temporary staff to fulfill the records request at a cost that could exceed $20,000. They said the Vermont Press Bureau would be charged for the emails if the request is not withdrawn.
“I’m not willing to have our own staff who normally don’t do records requests continue to do them,” Springer said.
Although the Vermont Press Bureau was the first to request the emails, several other media outlets later asked for the same records. Those outlets would also need to withdraw the request or they, too, would be billed for the cost of completing it, Coriell said.
“I think our track record on records requests is that if they’re manageable we do not charge,” he said.
The Vermont Press Bureau is considering its options. Coriell said the administration has put the request on hold until VPB and other media outlets decide whether they want to proceed. The administration will try to fulfill more narrow requests without charging if such requests are made, he said.
“It’s outrageous that a request to see public documents about the workings of state government could cost $20,000. We appreciate the staff time it takes to fulfill these requests, but that amount of money has the practical effect of curtailing the public’s right and ability to evaluate the actions of public officials,” said Rob Mitchell, editor-in-chief of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. “It has forced us to withdraw this request while we consider our options, but one way or another we will continue to pursue the records we initially requested.”
The administration made a request to the Department of Information and Innovation to delete the emails of the five former staff members on April 1. The request drew concern because it occurred just days before state and federal civil fraud charges were filed against Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger on April 14. Top administration officials said the timing was simply a coincidence, and the request to DII was part of an ongoing project to archive records and not related to the civil fraud charges against
Quiros and Stenger are accused by both the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of misusing about $200 million of the $350 million they raised from foreign investors in $500,000 increments for development projects at Jay Peak, Q Burke Mountain and in the town of Newport. Quiros is also accused of using $50 million of investor money for his own personal gain.
One of the former staffers in question, Alexandra MacLean, left the governor’s office for a job at Jay Peak, where many of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program development projects headed by Stenger and Quiros took place.
Any emails dealing with the EB-5 projects in question were preserved and segregated from the deletion request through of a “litigation hold” put in place by Attorney General Bill Sorrell last October as his office prepared a case against Quiros and Stenger, administration officials said.
The administration asked Sorrell to release the former staffers’ emails related to the EB-5 projects that had been segregated, but Sorrell declined to do so, saying it could harm the state’s case. Sorrell said those emails could be released after the civil case against Quiros and Stenger is resolved, or if a judge orders them to be released.