Ureña demands $265 for expense records

Says cost is for gathering data, redacting personal information

FRANCISCO URENA, the state secretary of veterans’ services, is demanding $265 to produce one year of his expense records.

The general counsel for the veterans’ agency, Stuart Ivimey, said the expense records for the period from March 2019 to February 2020 amount to 500 pages. He said it will take 1.7 days to gather the records and then redact personal information.

Ivimey was asked to waive the fee, but he declined to do so.

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The high cost to retrieve the records and the large number of them are unusual. Over the years, CommonWealth has made more than 60 public records requests for the expense records of state and local public officials.  In only one instance has an agency ever imposed a charge for the records and rarely has the number of expense documents exceeded 150 pages.

Ureña is in the spotlight currently for his oversight of COVID-19 developments at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.  Gov. Charlie Baker said he and other top officials didn’t learn of a major COVID-19 outbreak there until being informed by the mayor of Holyoke. But the former supervisor of the home, who Baker placed on administrative leave once the situation became public, has released records indicating Ureña and other top-ranking officials were alerted to the problems as they occurred. Some veterans groups have called for Ureña’s ouster.

The state’s guide to the public records law says agencies are urged to waive fees associated with access to public records, but it is not required. Charging is not allowed for redactions unless the law requires them or the state’s supervisor of public records approves the charges. The supervisor did not approve charging for the records in this case, and the redactions Ivimey said were necessary were discretionary in most cases. Ivimey said certain expenses are exempt if they are medically related, but it’s unclear why medical expenses would be mixed in with his expense records, which are typically for travel, meals, mileage, and hotel accommodations.