Shaky: Judge questions City secrecy

Jim Moore already thought Charlottesville is paying too much for its new $6.6 million computer system. But then when he wanted to take a look at the 200-page contract, the city edited out all the pricing info, claiming that it's proprietary.

Now, a Charlottesville judge may help him find out what he wants to know.

When the city denied Moore's Freedom of Information Act request to see the pricing information, he appealed to General District Judge Robert Downer.

In court May 14, Downer did not seem convinced the city followed proper procedure to keep the CityLink costs secret. "The statute needs to be enforced strictly," said Downer. "If not, as far as I'm concerned, the whole thing becomes public."

Still, Downer stopped short of declaring the city in violation.

"I have had to review the statute," Downer said at the hearing. "It seems the burden of proof should be on the city."

Deputy City Attorney Lisa Kelley argued that city and state laws exempt trade secrets or proprietary information from the Freedom of Information Act.

"When the contractor submitted his proposal," Kelley said, "the costs were in a separate sealed envelope. At all times all pricing information was labeled proprietary and confidential."

In court, Kelley offered to provide Moore with a summary of software licensing and implementation costs of the new system.

Moore demurred, saying, "I fear those two numbers are not sufficient to compare what other cities procured." And he argued that it was quite common when dealing with the public sector for contracts to be open.

For instance, in UVA's contract with Oracle, "We have to let them know if we release the contract," says UVA spokesman Carol Wood. But the pricing in the contract itself is not proprietary, she says.

"I feel I have a basic right to ask my government how it spends public funds," Moore, a former municipal database consultant, told the judge.

"I think this is a good day for Charlottesville and the citizens who believe they have a right to ask how their government spends public funds," Moore said after the hearing.

"We're sort of caught in the middle because of the contractor's desire to protect costs as confidential," says Kelley.

Perhaps all is not lost for the city in its desire to protect its vendor. As Moore pointed out during the hearing, "The city wisely included a clause in the contract that protects the city from liability if this information is released, including steps for Freedom of Information Act protection. Presumably the vendor had access to that."

The parties will be back in court May 21.

Jim Moore went to court to argue his right to know how the city is spending public funds on its new $6.6 million CityLink computer system, which he says will end up costing over $17 million.