Our former mayor quietly (if not secretly) negotiated a deal with SC Johnson to save the company hundreds of thousand of dollars per year and net the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for Becker's Uptown Artist Relocation program.
He also bought a $40,000 sculpture from an artist he was trying to lure to Uptown ($40,000 conveniently happened to be the amount the artist needed for a down payment on his building).
Then, setting aside his alleged Internet habits, there are series of other allegedly questionable deals and relationships he engaged in during his six years as mayor - many we may never know about. But we can still ask the question: What was Gary Becker hiding?
One existing glimpse into Becker's legacy as mayor exists on city computers, or more specifically, on city-owned data tapes. Every email Becker sent as Racine's chief executive is stored away as a public record, legally available to the public.
But while the records are open to the public, they're not necessarily available.
RacinePost filed a records request for Becker's emails and was quoted a price of $10,274.28 to fulfill the records request. Here's the explanation of the cost from Assistant City Attorney Nicole Loop:
I believe it's within the public's interest to make these emails available to the public. If we're going to learn from Becker's mistakes, we have to bring them to light. These emails are a step toward fulfilling this critical task.I relayed your request ("all of Gary Becker's emails from his time as mayor (2003-2009)") to MIS Director Paul Ancona and he provided me with information on the process and costs. Per Mr. Ancona, the retrieval will be done from backup tapes using DAT tapes. As to the retrieval process, the department would first need to retrieve the offsite tapes and load them (1.5 hours of time). Then, they would need to go to each year-end tape, retrieve the mailboxes, go through them and retrieve Becker's mailbox. This process would take about three hours per tape (7 years x 3 hours = 21 hours). Then, they would need to read through the restored mailboxes and retrieve his e-mails, process them into a form that can be read outside of exchange, and save it to electronic format. This process would take approximately 2 hours per tape (7 years x 2 hours = 14 hours).
I would need to review all of the e-mails to prevent the release of information that may be confidential or otherwise protected by law, which is even more time-consuming than the above processes. On an estimate of 100 e-mails per day sent and received, that's about 26,100 e-mails per year (using 261 work days-subtracting the weekends). Assuming I can get through 8,700 e-mails in an 8-hour work day, I would estimate that it would take me 3 days per tape (8 hours x 3 days = 24 hours x 7 years = 168 hours). This is an extremely conservative estimate.
The cost to the city to locate this information would be $51.35 per hour for the MIS Department's time, and $50.00 per hour for the City Attorney Office's time. Wis. Stat. 19.35(3)(c) permits the city to charge the "actual, necessary and direct cost" of locating the materials if the fee is $50 or more. In this case, I estimate the actual, necessary and direct cost of locating the materials you requested to be $10,274.28 (36.5 hours x $51.35 = $1874.28; 168 hours x $50.00 = $8400.00). If it took less time, you would receive a refund; if it took more time, you would be required to pay the additional costs. If you wish to proceed with the request, we would require pre-payment of the entire estimated amount.
Legal or not, such a review shouldn't cost $10,274.28. It shouldn't cost a penny to review the actions of an elected official, particularly an elected official who left in a cloud of suspicion. We're asking the City Council to direct the release of these emails to the citizens of Racine at no cost. We believe it is their duty as overseers of the executive branch to undertake this exercise in the name of good and open government.
No doubt the emails will contain uncomfortable truths for powerful city leaders. Many people reading these words may have the thought: "What did I ever write to the mayor? Do I want that public? Probably not."
Others will argue that it's time to move on and leave the past as past. We have a new mayor and local officials are settling in to work on balancing the budget, reducing crime and attracting jobs and development. Looking back only promises to resurrect old wounds.
Both thoughts are misguided. Wounds fester when covered in the darkness and heal when brought into the open. But more simply, the public has a right to know. Enough question marks have been raised about our previous mayor to demand a full review of his actions. Releasing these emails to the public would be a good start.