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City of Alameda Refuses to Release Budget Spreadsheet

The City of Alameda refuses to release it's two-year budget planning spreadsheet in native Excel format.A City of Alameda administration that pledges ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’ has refused an Action Alameda News public records request for a copy of the city’s two-year budget planning spreadsheet in native Microsoft Excel format.

City Attorney Janet Kern denied our request, citing California Government Code section 6253.9, which states, in part, “Unless otherwise prohibited by law, any agency that has information that constitutes an identifiable public record not exempt from disclosure pursuant to this chapter that is in an electronic format shall make that information available in an electronic format when requested by any person…”

However, the section also states, and this is the exemption that Ms. Kern claims, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the public agency to release an electronic record in the electronic form in which it is held by the agency if its release would jeopardize or compromise the security or integrity of the original record or of any proprietary software in which it is maintained.”

Kern did not respond to the assertion that an Excel spreadsheet is hardly proprietary, and that the suggestion that providing a copy of the spreadsheet would compromise the integrity of the original record was a specious argument.

Last month, news broke at a national level that a Massachusetts doctoral student identified errors in spreadsheets developed by two esteemed Harvard University economists, and which drove a highly influential 2010 research paper.

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