The Great Birth Index Fiasco
Back in February I requested to see, among other things, the hand-written birth index for 1961 (or microfilms of the hand-written index), which existed in 1980 and was required to be retained permanently. The HI State Archivist confirmed that the HDOH should have the document, but the HDOH said they didn’t have it. The entire history of that request is here.
The concluding response the HDOH gave was a claim that they did not have the handwritten 1961 birth index but that they could print the computer-generated 1961 birth index at a cost of $98.75, which I should send if I wanted them to send the record. They enclosed a Notice to Requester which outlined the reason for the specific cost (which included 4 15-minute periods for an office worker to “segregate” records, in addition to an hour to search for the record). The fine print of the Notice to Requester said that all requester obligations for the request had to be fulfilled within 20 business days or the agency would consider the request abandoned. Because I had never made a request for the computer-generated birth index there were no obligations for me to fulfill. The HDOH was simply telling me what it would cost to fill the request if I chose to make it.
On July 29th I chose to make that request. I sent an e-mail saying that I would be sending a money order for $98.75 in order to get the computer-generated 1961 birth index and asking if I could have someone pick it up at their office on Thursday, Aug 5th, if the money order was in their office by Mon, Aug 2. I also sent a hand-written letter officially requesting the computer-generated birth index, together with a copy of the Notice to Requester on which the cost had been stated and a money order for $98.75. My mail delivery confirmation showed that the written request and money order was in the HDOH office at 6:08AM on Aug 4th. (I’ve mistakenly quoted it as 6:02AM elsewhere, including to the HDOH).
On Monday, Aug 2 I received an e-mail from the HDOH saying that my e-mail request had been marked by their IT Dept as being possible spam; I should re-send. I did not re-send because my question was moot by then and I had already sent the paper request and money order anyway.
On Aug 3rd Mark Niesse of the AP asked the HDOH for copies of the last 3 requests for Obama’s records. Mine was one of those 3 requests. My e-mail account name was not redacted from the records the HDOH gave Niesse; he contacted me via Facebook to see if he could interview me for an article he was working on. (I did not respond to him until after the article ran.) On Aug 4th (while my paper request and money order was in their office) Niesse interviewed Janice Okubo, who told him that they offer the computer-generated 1961 birth index for $98.75 but nobody had sent in any money yet and they were asking the AG for a ruling on whether they should continue to “offer” that. She said that Obama is in their 1961 birth index and they allow the public to view index records in their office.
So I have proof that my e-mail request for the computer-generated 1961 birth index had arrived in their office on July 29th and a paper request and money order had arrived in their office by the start of the day on Aug 4th – the very day when Janice Okubo told Mark Niesse that they offer the 1961 birth index for $98.75 (the amount of my money order). IOW, I have proof that I had my request and money order for the full amount in the HDOH office while they were still “offering” the 1961 birth index.
Niesse’s article wasn’t actually published until Saturday, Aug 7th. In response to Okubo’s public statement in that article that they hadn’t received any money from anybody, I contacted Niesse to find out when he had interviewed Okubo and found that it was during the workday on Aug 4th.
Because I was concerned about how Niesse was able to find out my last name when I only use the name “Nellie” in my communications with the HDOH, I also e-mailed a request to see any UIPA responses the HDOH had sent out containing a request by me. They sent me a cover letter and enclosed their response to Niesse’s request, including my July 29th request – flagged as possible spam but with almost the entire text visible.
I sent the HDOH a Cease and Desist letter , asking them to remove all references to my last name from their contacts with me and from the UIPA responses where they have referenced my last name. They have ignored my request, as their latest response to me contained my last name.
I also contacted the HDOH and after a series of calls and workers was told they couldn’t find a record of my request; they didn’t know what had happened to it but I should contact hdohinfo. So I did. Eventually they told me in an Aug 13th e-mail that they were sending back my money order because I had abandoned my request since I hadn’t responded to the Notice to Requester within 20 days. And sure enough, they sent my money order back.
I reminded them that the Notice to Requester had been sent to me to tell me that I COULD request the computer-generated 1961 birth index, since the request I HAD actually made (for the handwritten index) could not be filled because that permanent record no longer exists (they claim). I asked them exactly when they say they received my request for a computer-generated 1961 birth index, since it had not been 20 business days since my first contact with their office requesting that particular record. At first they insisted that they had already answered all my questions so I made an actual UIPA Request for a copy of my request for the computer-generated 1961 birth index, including the date that it arrived in their office.
They had already sent back the money order that was included with my paper request. They had replied to my e-mailed request, asking me to re-send it. And they had sent copies of my e-mailed request to both Mark Niesse and myself in response to UIPA requests. That’s 4 different times that the HDOH showed that they had my request in their office – the e-mail request received by July 29 and the snail-mail request by Aug 4th.
On the 10th business day they e-mailed to say there were no records responsive to my request – that they had no record of my request for the computer-generated 1961 birth index. What they had acknowledged 4 different times before they now claim they don’t have.
They’ve also said they only collect birth data in 5-year increments so they can’t release the 1961 birth index. So in the same request as in the last paragraph I also requested “to see any communications to or from your office regarding what changed from the time you told me that you could release the computer-generated birth index for 1961 and now, as well as any duly-passed law or regulation which says that index data may only be released in increments of 5 years.”
No records responsive to my request. (It is worth noting that their MARRIAGE INDEX is in a 6-year increment for the years 1960-65 only, based upon copies of birth index pages they sent in response to a request)
I’ve also asked to see their communications asking for a ruling by the Hawaii Attorney General . They responded that there are no records responsive to my request. Compare this with the AG Administrative Rules’ procedures to amend rules (see Subchapter 4 ) or to ask for a declaratory judgment (see Subchapter 5 ) from the AG – which clearly require written communications.
- The HDOH is refusing to acknowledge that my request and money was in their office on the same day that Janice Okubo said they offer the 1961 birth index for $98.75. They claim that my request doesn’t exist even though they have already sent a copy of it to both Mark Niesse and myself, asked me to resend the e-mail request, and sent back the money order I included with the written request. Retention schedules require these requests to be saved for 2 years.
2. The HDOH has changed their claims to say they can only release index data in increments of 5 years. But there are no laws or regulations which say that and they have the physical capability of printing whatever they want. Disclosure of the exact year of birth is apparently not forbidden, because according to Niesse’s article, Okubo already told him that Obama is in their 1961 birth index. HRS 338-18 requires index data to be released to the public.
3. Janice Okubo stated in a public interview for an article that was published nationally that they were asking the Hawaii Attorney General for a ruling on the implementation and/or interpretation of laws and rules – a process which is required to be done in writing. But the HDOH claims there are no communications to or from their office regarding why their “offer” of the 1961 birth index no longer exists.
4. All this is done to keep from having to release index data they claim is already accessible to the public at their office. They have stated that all index data is really about Obama. They have stated that Obama is in the 1961 birth index. But they appear to be lying and/or illegally destroying records, as well as disobeying HRS 338-18, UIPA, and their own Administrative Rules in order to try to avoid having to put their money where their mouth is.
I give the complete details about this case because it is representative of a whole host of similar experiences I have had with the HDOH, as those who have read the blog are aware. Sadly, this seems to be typical fare from this government agency. And nobody in Hawaii’s government, media, or law enforcement will hold them accountable for it.
But reasonable people all over this country are asking, “Why? Why so much unethical and illegal behavior to hide the public index records they say they’ve already confirmed?”