Home Content CategoryBoca Viewpoint  Now you see it, now you don’t. 

 Now you see it, now you don’t. 

by Alan Neibauer

Magicians are great at making things disappear. With sleight of hand, right before your eyes.  But tricks that involve public records might be illegal. In a previous article, we talked about the quasi-judicial process. We also explained how following a trail of hints, small breadcrumbs, might or might not hint of political magic tricks. Let’s now look at the importance of public records, and how sometimes the magic of now you see it, now you don’t. We’ll look at a video of a 2022 CRA meeting as an example.

Anyone can use city websites to request to see public records. Public records include all documents, videos, emails, text messages, and social media posts that have to do with city business. There is a site for police records, another for the rest of city government.

Police records, other than missing or found animals, are not free.

Fees charge by the Boca Police Department for public records

What you request from other city departments determines the cost. There is usually no charge for requesting digital copies, unless the request calls for extensive research. There is a charge for paper copies. For example, Jim Wood, a fellow contributor to BocaFirst, requested all city emails containing the phrase “Complete Streets.” He received an email from the city the cost would be “about $371.00”.

Most officials take extreme care to maintain public records. When I worked for the city of Philadelphia, there was an assistant commissioner who was also serving temporarily as the acting commissioner. He would routinely send memos back and forth to himself in both positions to maintain the chain of records.

Boca Raton fined for records violation

The law takes a dim view of violations of public record rules. In fact, Boca Raton now faces some $2,000,000 in legal fees for such a violation. The Azure company wanted to develop the property at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd. They charged that the city failed to provide requested records. In addition to paying the plaintiffs legal fees, the ruling barred the mayor, two council members, and some staff from taking part in future issues with the project. Judges take these violations very seriously. You can read the entire court ruling here.

Private devices must be maintained for public records

It is also a violation to discard, erase, or alter a public record. But accidents can happen. Documents can be lost, emails and text messages deleted. Audio and video recordings are harder to misplace. But, electronic glitches can happen. Hardware and software bugs could cause unintentional deletions.

Documents can get damaged or lost

Blacked out

While public records cannot be altered, they can be redacted. However, cities cannot use redaction just to hide things they don’t want people to see. According to law, they can only redact specific things mentioned in the legal statutes. Items such as social security numbers, drivers license numbers, addresses, names of minors, some investigative information until case is adhjucated, domestic violence information. 

But by law, an agency cannot refuse to provide a public record just because some material in it needs to be redacted. They must redact the exempt information and provide the rest of the record.

A redacted document

Statements made, statements remembered

Last year, we encountered a public record glitch that caught our attention regarding the Aletto project. This one involves a video recording of a public meeting. Aletto is now getting near demolition, so we thought this would be an interesting example of the difficulty maintaining digital public records.

In this article, we will be talking about a statement missing from the official recording of a CRA meeting. We have to stress that we are not making any claims or accusations that anyone did anything wrong. Especially elected officials or city staff. We just want to show how small breadcrumbs can lead us to one conclusion or another.

 During the February 7, 2022, CRA meeting, several of us spoke about our opposition to Aletto Square.  At one point after our comments, the camera came back onto Mayor Singer. At least two attendees, myself and a reporter who was present, recall he said, “I’m still trying to figure out why people that live in a tall building would be against another tall building.” I even wrote down the comment in my notes not to forget.

Please excuse the handwriting…note taken in haste

I thought the statement was interesting because our objection had nothing to do with building height. It was traffic, congestion, and the negative impact on Sanborn Square.

A number of minutes later, the mayor followed up on his previous statement. He said, as transcribed exactly from the video, “I get the neighbors who are concerned about who live in tower 155 who you know live in a building that was built on that same street and are concerned about another building, I get that”.

Now you see it, now you don’t

In preparing for our opposition in 2023, I went back to view the official video available on the city’s website.  Strangely, I found his initial statement was not on the video. This made his second statement, on the tape, appear like a non sequitur. 

Place where comment went missing

Something strange appeared on the video where he made that statement. Watch the clip carefully. Looking at individual frames of the video, I found unusual reversed and double exposed images. Some frames also appeared to be sped up. As shown below, for example, you can see that the flags on the stage flip from one side to another, and one frame appears as a double exposure.

There are also frames without sound, and one quick frame partially showing Mayor Singer.

Reverse frames and frame with no sound

Either equipment glitches or editing could have caused these. Because further examination was beyond my abilities and budget, I asked two freelance experts to review the recording, which they downloaded from the official city website. 

In this case, it may be impossible to determine the actual cause or motive of this missing statement. Neither was our intention. Again, we are not saying the public record video was intentionally altered. We just found this an intriguing example of the difficulty of maintaining official records. But we did find the comments from the reviewers interesting. Nothing proved either accidental or intentional deletion, or hardware glitches. Words like “likely “ and “possible “ are not substantive proof neither way. But for now, all we know for sure is that a comment was somehow deleted. We will see what happens if we find more available resources. That’s the problem following breadcrumbs. Magic or technical glitch? Now you see it, now you don’t.

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