WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Outlandish Fees Charged for Public Documents

Oct 21, 2014

Reporters who’ve asked to see public documents related to the police shooting in Ferguson, MO, are being asked to pay ridiculous amounts of money for the records.

The Associated Press said it was asked to pay $135 an hour — for nearly a day's work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting.  Another news organization reported being asked to place a $2,000 down payment on its records request.

The Shop Talk panelists say price gouging is one way public entities try to stonewall and prevent the release of information that could prove embarrassing.

Rich Moreno said some governments take advantage of loopholes in the law.  For example, local jurisdictions are allowed to determine a “reasonable fee” for providing documents, but laws don’t define what’s meant by “reasonable.”

Jasmine Crighton said Ferguson’s cost estimates are out of line. But she recognizes the city is probably swamped by FOIA requests from the media and citizens.  She said the amount of interest in Ferguson should serve as a heads up to all local governments to be prepared in case a national story happens in their backyard.

Rich Egger said even if Ferguson is swamped with FOIA requests, it should find a way to work with reporters and citizens instead of engaging in price gouging. He said most people recognize the extreme circumstances in the city, and he feels most probably would be willing to grant city hall a bit more time to fill out a request for information.