The Downtown Brick Replacement Debate

Old Mall BricksIt looks like the debate over the Downtown Mall bricks got interesting when I wasn’t paying attention. Dave McNair writes in this week’s Hook about the question of why the city isn’t reusing the existing bricks to rebrick the Mall. Since the new surface will use bricks of the same dimensions as the current ones, and since the city’s own estimate is that 80% of the bricks are in good shape, it stands to reason that they could be reused. McNair points out that a similar project in Columbus put high school students to work de-mortaring bricks to prep them to be laid anew. I’m yet to see a price tag on the actual cost of new bricks, only the $7M figure for the entire overhaul, but it seems like an option well worth exploring.

40 Responses to “The Downtown Brick Replacement Debate”

  • After the dredging deception and the current water street parking lot questions, I really have to wonder what some clever FOIA digging might turn up about who stands to gain from this project. Something isn’t right here.

  • De-mortaring thousands and thousands of bricks?

    Not remotely cost effective unless you getting free labor for this stunningly menial task. It would also add a lot of time to the project, meaning extra weeks or months of big sections of the Mall ripped up and local business owners losing revenue.

    It’s one thing for a couple of individuals to de-mortar a few hundred over the course of a few weeks to make a patio or something. That’s coming out of spare time and can be figured to be like gardening or restoring a vintage car or any other hobby where the cost of man-hours isn’t really an issue. But it just doesn’t make financial sense on the scale of all of East Main Street unless you can mobilize hundreds of volunteers to show up and get a whole lot of bricks de-mortared really, really fast.

  • Why not sell the used bricks for a good price to do it yourselfers asdescribed by Jackson?

  • Jack is precisely correct. All of those bricks will be re-used or recycled, though not necessarily on the Mall, given our desire for a project that’s not going to drag on for many months and potentially kill off a good number of businesses.

  • At ~1,800 feet long, 65 feet wide, 3 bricks/ft2, I figure there are 350k bricks. If 80% of those could be salvaged, that’s 280,000 bricks to be de-mortared. Not knowing how long it takes (or even what goes into) de-mortaring a brick, it’s kind of tough to do any further math with any degree of accuracy. But what the heck, why not try? If it takes two minutes to de-mortar a brick, that’s 560,000 minutes, or 389 man-days. That’s 1,167 eight-hour days for a single person, or 117 work days for a crew of ten.

  • Mr Norris is not being honest here. Whatever mechanical process is used for pulling up, piling, and moving the bricks is going to destroy the vast majority of them. If it isn’t cost effective to re-use the bricks, it certainly isn’t going to be on anyone’s priority list to take good care of them while the work proceeds.

    If the brick were to be distributed, how to manage that then? What if I want 20? Is that going to get me in line before the brick hogs who want 1000, or is it going to make me a pesty little guy who needs just as much time to be dealt with as the big guys, but doesn’t get the bricks gone. Freecycle works well, but if you follow that, look at how many no-shows happen. Who will be scheduling pick-up times and making the process fair? What if I’m handicapped but want brick? Will someone be on hand to load it for me? Could we have Mr. Halprin come to town for a brick signing for everyone that just want a single tragic reminder of what we once had here?

    I had a summer job once where I worked for a brief time with a crew that mowed a graveyard. It took them all week to get from one end to the other. They started again at the top on monday. That was all they ever did. It would have been far better all along to have a brick maintenance guy or two working from one end to the other on the mall. The job would never be done, but things would always be in good order. It is certainly not to late to start doing that. Trying an epic renovation project is stupid in so many different ways, that it boggles my mind that it even got past the idea phase. The Mall is a historic thing in its own right and need conservation, not destruction.

    I am more ashamed than ever of myself and my fellow residents for letting a truly wonderful place be governed so badly for so many year. We have a wonderful community and a mass of local brain-power that really is world class. We sadly do not have a city council or city manager that reflects that.

  • Mr Norris is not being honest here.

    Rather than assume dishonesty, why not assume that a) you have considered some problems that he has not or b) that he has considered those problems and come up with likely solutions to them? Dishonesty shouldn’t be claimed until all other possibilities have been exhausted.

  • I’m not sure if there’s anything that sounds less appealing than demortaring bricks for 117 (much less 1,167) days in a row.

  • I made it #1 you made it 17th

    Why not just replace the areas that need replacing and save us all a ton of money? We have some other more critical needs in this city. What evidence will we have as citizens that the bricks are being recycled? How will we know for sure. This really is a waste of money and looks bad and publicly looking like wasteful spending. How about reducing the cost of utilities for the citizens of the city with some of that money? That would probably have as much impact on spending in the city as replacing bricks that do not need replacing. Just some things we all need to consider.

  • I stand corrected Waldo. It would have been more proper for me to have written that what Mr. Norris wrote was probably not actually very true without insinuating that he intentionally attempted to mislead. That was what I actually meant.

    Perhaps I put too much stock in this from the article that was originally referenced and assumed that Mr. Norris, due to his position as mayor, had been told pretty much the same thing. “Addressing the re-use issue, planners and brick industry experts have said it would be difficult to remove the more securely mortared bricks in such a small time-frame without damaging most of them.” Of course that doesn’t mean that they can’t be “recycled” for something, but we all know how misleading claims of “recycled’ content can be.

    To address the concerns of those who think that de-mortaring bricks would be an unpleasant job, I agree. An awful lot of jobs that get done everyday in this and countless other cities suck, are demoralizing, and some are even dangerous. Try paint scraping sometime if you haven’t. Lots of painting contractors around though. It simply isn’t possible to have everyone go to college and do nice clean pencil pushing jobs and still have the country continue to function.

  • Try paint scraping sometime if you haven’t.

    I did that for a month—in August—when I was 15. 8am-4pm, Monday through Saturday, if I recall correctly. That was some hot, exhausting work, with the lesson being that I’d damned well want to make sure I didn’t do this for the rest of my life.

  • I agree with “I made it #1 you made it 17th.” My family and I walk along the Downtown Mall at least once a week, and while it’s not the world’s smoothest surface, is it really all that bad? Do we really need to be such a squeaky-clean city that we can justify spending $7M on bricks?! I grew up outside of Boston, MA – a city with plenty of uneven bricks and streets – and I always felt that it added to its sense of history and authenticity. My wife grew up in San Juan, PR – another VERY old city with beautiful, fantastically uneven brickwork that is inseparable to its sense of history and uniqueness. I mean, do we really want this town to be “perfect” at the expense of its quirks and eccentricities? I’d rather live in a town that embraces its small imperfections as part of its character than one that pours much-needed budgetary funds down the drain to achieve such little real gain. Talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good!

  • My family and I walk along the Downtown Mall at least once a week, and while it’s not the world’s smoothest surface, is it really all that bad? Do we really need to be such a squeaky-clean city that we can justify spending $7M on bricks?

    I think the difficulty is that every time somebody trips and falls on a loose brick—a routine occurrence—that’s a potential lawsuit and quite certainly a settlement payout. It doesn’t take but a few serious injuries to hit that $7M mark.

  • I Made it #1 you made it 17th

    Waldo then why not fix the sidewalks and repair some bricks? I have offered for years myself to push around City Councilman in a Wheel Chair for a day. No one has taken me up on that offer. I would love to see them meet the basic ADA requirements in this city first.

    “A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in the case Barden v. City of Sacramento in 2001 that sidewalks installed and maintained by local governments must be accessible to persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (The Ninth Circuit serves the state of Washington.) Under the decision, the city of Sacramento, California was advised that not only must it provide curb ramps at intersections on newly-constructed or remodeled roadways and walkways, it must have a program which will assure the accessibility of all its sidewalks between curb ramps. The ruling means that governments will be obligated to remove barriers from their sidewalks, such as benches, wires, cracks, breaks, and sign posts, if their presence poses a barrier to the accessibility of the sidewalk to, for example, persons using wheelchairs or those with sight impairments. The decision is based upon the court’s holding that the operation of sidewalks is a municipal “service, program, or activity” under the ADA and that maintaining a public sidewalk is a “normal function of a governmental entity.” The city appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court which in June 2003 rejected the appeal without comment. Prior to the Courts action, however, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Sacramento will assign twenty percent of its transportation funds for the next 30 years to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and curb ramps. The settlement also calls for the city to pay attorneys’ fees and $10,000 to each of the eight named plaintiffs.”

    Talk about a lawsuit!

  • Hey, you’ll like our next Left of Center meeting—that’s the topic!

  • Exactly – wouldn’t a good-faith effort to fix the problem areas make more financial sense and also ward off the vast majority of lawsuits (deflecting claims of negligence)? If the city were so concerned about lawsuits, why have repair crews not been set to work on the problem areas long before now? If litigation is truly such a threat, the lack of timely repairs to date by the city seems well out of proportion to the purported risk.

    And for crying out loud, every town or city in America has tripping hazards aplenty. So fix the major offenders and be done with it. The argument that this is a defensive measure by the city seems far-fetched and implausible. This rather seems like a very expensive polish job – as well as perhaps a PR move to improve the city’s image – and nothing more. When the rebricking is complete, will people really ooh and aah at how nice it looks for more than 30 seconds? Doubtful. Will scads more shoppers flock to our new, trip-free downtown? Ha! A few less people may trip and fall, but if that’s the real issue, again I’d put forth that that can be accomplished with a MUCH smaller investment in infrastructure improvement. Economic times are tight, and I think in a year we’ll all be looking back at this project as serious overkill and a big, fat waste of funds that could have been better spent elsewhere.

  • Just let me know when/if i can get some free bricks- I’m building me a patio.

  • I wonder if anyone ever looked into selling the brick. Since Charlottesville is so flush with excess cash as usual, I’m guessing probably not.

  • Here’s a few things to chew on, as I’ve been thinking and writing about this project for some time….would love to hear your responses….

    Yes, de-mortarizing thousands of bricks would be quite a task, and probably take a long time, especially since 80 percent of them appear to be in good shape and are securely mortared. But doesn’t that prompt the question: Wouldn’t it be most cost effective and less disruptive to businesses to discreetly repair the 15 to 20 percent that are in bad shape? And is the Mall surface in such bad shape now that it warrants pulling up and discarding all of the Mall’s bricks and replacing them with new ones the same size? And if the city does go ahead with the project, pulling up all the bricks and replacing them at considerable cost, how much would it really improve one’s experience of the Mall compared to how it is experienced now? Does the benefit it would provide justify the cost?

    If 15 to 20 percent of the bricks that made up your backyard patio were showing some wear or coming loose, would you pull up the whole patio, discard the bricks, and lay down new ones? Especially if you were using the same size bricks?

    City planners and brick industry experts have argued that the way the bricks were laid 32 years ago, in a mortar-set bed, has caused them to shift and come loose. They say that will continue to happen unless they are all reset in a sand-set bed. But again, is the Mall surface really in such bad shape after 32 years? And shouldn’t we just live with the fact that our Mall was built that way? Which, as some have pointed out, gives it its character anyway?

  • What I’m puzzled by in all of this is the talk of the bricks. I was told by a city engineer, back around 1999, that the problem isn’t the bricks, it’s the substructure. Apparently, a great deal of the Downtown Mall isn’t at ground level—the ground beneath is excavated to various depths, ranging from inches to feet—and it’s that that’s causing trouble. Replacing that substructure requires ripping up a great many bricks, of course, to expose the whole of the framework.

    I haven’t heard a word about this problem since that one old fellow explained it to me, in his basement office in City Hall, so maybe this is all wrong. But that would certainly explain the need to rip up so much of the mall.

  • If that is a problem, it hasn’t been used by city planners as a reason to replace the bricks on the Mall.

    Still, I’ve had masonry and brick industry experts tell me that the integrity of the foundation you lay the pavers down on is more important than what kind of bricks you use. Once the old bricks are pulled up, the surface the new ones will be laid on will need to be prepared, and be prepared well. Who knows what they’ll find under the bricks, or how long it will take to properly prepare the surface to re-lay the new ones.

    I’ve been told there was a Downtown Pavement Study done by Wood, Sweet, and Swofford Architects in the very early 1990s that determined there were significant substructure problems. I’ve requested this study from the City, but have received no response. Does anyone know about this study or where I might find it?

    Feel free to contact me:

  • I Made it #1 you made it 17th

    Trace the $$ and we will find out why this needs to happen I bet. There is no logical reason for them to explain this. I find this utterly insane and it really pisses me off that the people I voted for are wasting out tax dollars in such ways. I am sick of this City Manager and others keeping the focus on image and not nourishing the soul of this city. We have huge drug issues, huge affordable housing issues, no real jobs for the native Cvillians, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
    I have written about this since 98 in The Hook, C’ville Weekly etc and it still continues. This city was #1 and now it is not, as a kid it was #1 too but we did not feel the need to market that so much. Unreal……

  • Maybe the used bricks can be recycled as rip rap and piled up between the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport 800 foot “driveway” extension and Chris Greene Lake, to slow down the flow of run off water, since the driveway exemption frees the airport from the responsibility of environmental impact engineering.

  • I was on the Downtown Mall again today, and in light of the recent comments here, I took an even harder look at the brickwork. And I’m more convinced than ever that ripping the whole thing up would be a giant mistake. People, seriously – go walk the Mall again and look around you. There are a few quirky spots, no question. Honestly though, personally I think the most awkward obstacles/defects of the walking surface design are what I presume to be drainage channels running down the length of the hill. I realize the need for drainage, but I think they’re far more of a hazard than a few loose bricks here and there. My two-year-old has been toppled (and scuffed up) by them more than once. They blend in TOO well with the rest of the walkway, and the drop in elevation isn’t as obvious as it should be, for what is effectively a small gully cutting across a busy pedestrian area. I’d question why that particular feature isn’t part of the rebuilding (unless it is and I just missed it) – especially, after all, if the looming possibility of lawsuits is really the motive for undertaking the project in the first place (which I doubt).

    Which brings to mind, does anyone involved in the study of this project have any statistics on numbers of trips and falls on the Mall, or is the $7M required to fix this “problem” being spent based largely on anecdotal evidence?

  • Dave, Thanks for the good work so far. This is a fiasco in the making, and I’m glad the Hook has taken an interest.

    I’ll try to word this carefully to avoid receiving Waldo’s censure again, but it seems that quite a few of the city’s employees are unaware of their obligation under Virginia law to promptly provide you with access to public records. I don’t for sure know if there is any official policy that recommends obstructing efforts to gain access to important information, but the effect is nearly as though there were in my experience.

    The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is a great resource for anyone who has a difficult time gaining access to public records. As a reporter, you are probably aware of the city’s obligations under the law, but perhaps not everyone with an interest in this matter is.

    I would urge you to ask again along with a gentle reminder that they have exceeded the time limit imposed upon them by the law. Don’t buy it if they tell you they have 5 days again once you mention the Virginia FOIA. You have already made your request, and a response is overdue.

    § 2.2-3704. Public records to be open to inspection; procedure for requesting records and responding to request; charges.

    A. Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth during the regular office hours of the custodian of such records…..

    B. …. The request need not make reference to this chapter in order to invoke the provisions of this chapter or to impose the time limits for response by a public body. Any public body that is subject to this chapter and that is the custodian of the requested records shall promptly, but in all cases within five working days of receiving a request, provide the requested records to the requester or make one of the following responses in writing….

    Follow the link above for more if you are interested.

  • I’ll try to word this carefully to avoid receiving Waldo’s censure again, but it seems that quite a few of the city’s employees are unaware of their obligation under Virginia law to promptly provide you with access to public records.

    I see my evil ploy for civility is working. ;)

    The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is a great resource for anyone who has a difficult time gaining access to public records.

    Coincidentally, I’m on the board of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. As the newest member, I haven’t even been to a board meeting yet, but as a long-time fan and subscriber to the VCOG newsletter, I’ve certainly read of many instances in which governments have willfully refused to cooperate with requests. Anecdotally, it seems like that’s mostly the governments of really small towns and counties, but no doubt there are instances of such things in larger municipalities in Virginia.

  • The latest issue of the VCOG newsletter (summer 2008) lists FOIA complaints for Gloucester, Richmond, Halifax County, Leesburg, Warren City, Loundon County.

    Not sure why there would be more violations with smaller entities, as Waldo suggests (except perhaps that there are more of them?)

    And let’s not forget the value of FOIA to our elected officials,too. As I recall it was Blake Caravati who used FOIA to determine the size of the Scottie Griffin $300K buyout, as noted in an earlier VCOG report that chastised our School Board:

    The good news for citizens is that the Charlottesville School Board now podcasts, so we can follow along wherever they meet.

  • The latest issue of the VCOG newsletter (summer 2008) lists FOIA complaints for Gloucester, Richmond, Halifax County, Leesburg, Warren City, Loundon County.

    It looks like that, but if you read the blurbs, you’ll see that’s not quite so. Richmond, for example, was simply the location of the FOIA violation—it was actually the Virginia Supreme Court and the state bar. And Loudoun is being praised for establishing a position of inspector general, but criticized for not funding it; not a FOIA violation. The story with Leesburg is that their council members are missing a lot of meetings with the town’s committees. And so on. They’re largely not stories of local governments refusing to comply with FOIA requests, but general stories about difficulties with public access to information.

    Not sure why there would be more violations with smaller entities, as Waldo suggests (except perhaps that there are more of them?)

    I think part of it is because, yes, there’s more of them. But also that smaller entities aren’t accustomed to having to behave in an open fashion. They’re not accustomed to scrutiny, and can run like little fiefdoms. When somebody waltzes in talking about FOIA, they’re more likely to view it as an intrusion, and it’s a whole lot easier to just shred the requested file (because who would know?) than in a big government.

  • Waldo, have you tried to get sensitive information from our local government that officials don’t want released–eg. the Downtown Pavement Study that Dave McNair is seeking; or the survey of staff undertaken by the city schools; or the dredging report by the RSWA? It’s pulling teeth. I’m not convinced size matters when it comes to sunshine laws, and I suspect that the more knowledgeable official are regarding open govt laws, the less of a paper trail you’ll find. Hence the cartoon in the VCOG newletter that suggests that open meeting laws are skirted nowadays not by secret meetings, but by cell phone, computer, and Blackberry.

  • My oh my. How long has the city been governed by democrats? Just keep voting them in, folks.

    They’re supposed to make you feel better, remember? I thought this was liberal (sorry, “progressive”) utopia and now all of this civil unrest over bricks? This cannot be allowed to stand. Why don’t we astroturf it instead, then we won’t even have to use gas-guzzling mowers to keep it trimmed.

    Maybe since we’re a patriot-act-free-zone the mall is literally being undermined by the evil bush administration somehow to get even. Perhaps cia-trained gophers.

    “I am more ashamed than ever of myself and my fellow residents for letting a truly wonderful place be governed so badly for so many year[s].”

  • Charlottesville and Albemarle brought a whole new meaning to the word “frustration” for me. After having requested records, the request being acknowledged and records promised to me by a certain date, they then drop me a certified letter a few weeks later stating the records had been “accidentally destroyed”. Yeah, sure they were. Because they knew the records I requested would have opened them up to all sorts of civil liability. They would also have cost at least two employees he loss of their jobs. But, what the hell, one of these employees was later terminated anyway. The other, well, he simply continues to lie on a daily basis because he has gotten by with it for so long now. No need to change his bad habots now, he knows the local government will back him whenever his integrity is questioned, and records will be destroyed.

  • Waldo, have you tried to get sensitive information from our local government that officials don’t want released–eg. the Downtown Pavement Study that Dave McNair is seeking; or the survey of staff undertaken by the city schools; or the dredging report by the RSWA? It’s pulling teeth.

    That may well be, Karl. I’ve never claimed otherwise, as I don’t have any knowledge about that.

  • If 80% of the bricks are fine. What percent of the entire Mall is fine? Can’t just the bad areas be re-bricked? I bet that would save a lot more than reusing the old bricks.

  • The City has always been responsive to FOIA requests, at least as far as I have seen since being with the City. One of the challenges lately has been the amount of FOIAs being used by citizens and the media and the broadness of their requests. Saying we seek “all documentation” means that we have to ask all 971 City employees to look through their documentation including emails. I would be interested if Fishie could provide specific examples of where the City has not met their obligation, I know of none. We start with the day the request comes in and then we have 5 business days to respond. There have only been a few cases that I am aware of that we needed to apply an extension and that is when the request was broad or a key employee in the FOIA is sick or on vacation. In addition we don’t as practice, as other jurisdictions do, ask for compensation which is our right under FOIA if the request is excessive in nature. It takes enormous staff time in some cases to fulfill these requests which are typically submitted by a small handful of the same people and media outlets. We take the process very seriously and are aware of the legal and public perception implications if we don’t. I don’t want to engage in a debate on this site, and typically don’t, however this is an area where the City just shouldn’t be faulted and generic and anonymous accusations that we don’t meet our obligations should not be taken at face value.

  • For the record, I wasn’t saying that I was having difficulty getting the documents I asked for, just that I hadn’t received a response yet and wondered if anyone else had heard of this report. I asked in an email once, sent a reminder about 12 days later, then got the documents the next day.

  • And for the record and clarification, I was responding more to other comments on this topic rather than the story in the Hook. We certainly respect your right and the right of the public to ask for public documents, I am just trying to increase the sensitivity and understanding of how much staff time goes into broad FOIA requests that require us to spend many hours satisfying the request. It seems recently that the broad net approach is used more rather than just letting us know what the FOIA is really looking for. That was not the case in the request you mention in which you asked for a specific document, which was very helpful in the end.

  • “Kuttner thinks that spending $7.5 million on a massive Mall renovation project is foolish. He’d rather see city staff approach the problem as a maintenance issue, something they should have begun years ago.

    “They’ve neglected the Mall, and now it’s truly falling apart,” says Kuttner. “But it just needs to be maintained. There are pedestrian areas in Europe that are 200 years old. Let it become an antique, old Mall. Hire a maintenance crew, some masons, and have them go up and down the Mall. It would probably cost less than $200,000 a year.” Kuttner mall renovations mortar&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us
    Considering Overrun O’Connell’s and his staff’s history on large capital projects, I would lean more towards the advice provided by a successful developer. Although Overrun has said repeatedly that this project is merely a maintenance project or, more recently, a repair project, if anyone really looked at the proposals for fountains, parks, trees, corrals, planters, statues and completely re-sized bricking, he was proposing a complete re-design.
    What European city (or Chinese for that matter) completely replaces its pavement every thirty years? Perhaps Overrun should have consulted with a European firm first. If you remember, the city staff made the decisions in the past and obviously didn’t understand what type of mortar to use in the first place.

  • Mr. Barrick, I’m not quite sure what you mean when you write the term “FOIA request.” If you read the text of the act, it quite clearly and unambiguously states that it is not necessary to make reference to or invoke the act for it to be in effect. I hope that you were aware of that, but it is difficult to tell from what you have written.

    Any request for information from the city obliges the recipient of the request to provide information or one of a select few other responses. In effect, requests for information are all “FOIA requests.” That fact does not seem to be commonly known by city staff.

    I’ve asked for records from the city on 3 occasions where I have specifically mentioned FOIA. One of those times was because the person in the city’s Engineering Division whom I asked for records told me only that he would get around to it at some point. He then failed to respond in any way for 8 days. I returned and reminded him in person of his obligation under the law. He nearly freaked out and acted as though I had done something extremely provocative. Five days later (13 days after my initial request) I did get a response by mail from the City Attorney’s office.

    About a year after I made that request, I went back to that office and bypassed the front desk. I casually asked one of the guys I ran into a few questions. He led me to someone else who pulled a whole file from his filing cabinet that contained a number of things that I had never seen that were dated long before my request. My request was very specific, but it was broad enough to have covered everything in that file. Some of the items were things I had quite specifically asked for.

    On another occasion, I mentioned FOIA when an employee of Public Works repeatedly refused to provide me with information I knew he had. I asked for the information over the phone and then email so I could keep a written record. He told me that if I wanted what I was asking for that I would have to contact the City Attorney’s office. That is not one of the responses allowed by the Virginia FOIA. After several rounds of request and refusal, I insisted that I had asked him, that I still wanted what I had asked for, and that his response was not acceptable. That final statement was accompanied by a quotation from the Virginia Code. The City Attorney responded 5 days after that with an envelope of photocopies.

    About a week after that bit of ridiculousness, I went over to Public Works. I asked few questions and was sent to talk to a nice gentleman in his office. I told him who I was, and he knew that I had requested information recently. I didn’t approach that subject directly though, and we just chatted a bit. After a while, I asked a few more direct questions and he said something to the effect of “of course we have that sort of thing.” At that point, he pulled out and made a photocopy of something I had explicitly asked for in writing. I did get that document, but not as a result of my specific, written request that did clearly invoke the Virginia FOIA.

    I had been very suspicious that nothing of that type had been delivered to me, and went to the office certain that they couldn’t do business without the paperwork I wanted to see. I was lucky once again to hit it off with the right person. I am sure that there were other documents excluded, but I couldn’t figure out how to ferret them out.

    In both of those cases, I actually saw things that I had asked for in carefully worded requests but which hadn’t been delivered. The third time I asked for information and invoked the Virginia FOIA, I did not follow up with a quiet visit, because that wouldn’t have been very likely to get me anywhere. Much more closely guarded people were involved in that. I have very good reason to believe that, whether intentionally or not, what was provided to me was not fully responsive to the request I made. My request was very specific in that it focused on records produced by a very select group of city employees over a short period of time, and if focused on a very specific issue and location, yet it was broad enough to ask for virtually any type of record related to the subject I was interested in. I was denied access to some records, the reasons given were allowed by the act, but there were omissions that never made sense even considering that.

    If I’m not mistaken Mr. Barrick, you have only recently become a city employee. The most recent request for information that I’ve made was nearly 2 years ago. Maybe things are better now.

    I also don’t have any doubt that there are a lot, most likely a huge majority, of city employees that do their jobs with a sincere dedication to honest public service. They are probably happy to provide information about their activities. Problem is, they aren’t the ones that would make us wonder in the first place. The City Manager, and a few other upper level management…. I wonder about them a lot. The reservoir and Mall bricking fiascos make me wonder even more. Something isn’t right in this town, and making it right is going take dredging more than just the Rivanna.

  • Fishie
    I appreciate you taken the time to explain your past history with FOIAs. I can only speak on my recent experience with FOIA responses from the City which I’ve seen to be very proactive. Perhaps it was different a few years ago, I just don’t have that experience to tell you. I will say that the City Manager has made it quite clear to staff to be as responsive as possible and any experience otherwise would not meet our expectation. I would say to folks out there wanting to make a city FOIA that the best way to start is to contact my office or the City Attorney’s office which typically tracks those requests. There are a few staff assistants who are great at keeping us on track regardless of the work load. Thanks for allowing me to offer a perspective.

  • I have always submitted my requests for information directly to Overrun O’Connell and carbon copied Craig Brown. By doing this, no one could say I interrupted him for information while he was working on an important deadline. Overrun would pass it on to a staff member who emailed me and subsequently sent me the information that he wanted me to have. Sometimes it was sufficient and sometimes intentionally not (which could be information of even greater value). This way Overrun couldn’t say that my requests were disruptive to his staff. I haven’t asked for any information directly since before Ric Barrick was hired and have not had to use him as a resource.

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