Government transparency? Pay to play!

As we know, Deputy Assistant Guvnor Pat McCrory promised repeatedly that he would ensure government transparency and then (SURPRISE!) broke his promises.

Lately his administration has been charging exorbitant fees to fulfill public records requests, and Attorney General Roy Cooper advised Pay to Play Pat that that's not consistent with the law.

The attorney general called on the McCrory administration to reconsider the “special service charge” that some agencies impose on requests that take more than 30 minutes to find, review and copy records. ... At least one agency charges $51.47 an hour.

What happened next? Take a guess:

A. Pat realized the error of his ways and told everyone in his administration to stop charging fees to produce records that the public already owns.
B. Pat not only did (A), he also refunded all of the previous fees he had charged.
C. Pat got his lawyer to tell Roy Cooper to stuff it.

If you chose (C), you know your North Carolina government!

[Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel] disagreed that the policy violates the spirit or intent of the law.

Stephens said it’s only fair that taxpayers not absorb the costs of extensive records requests. He says Florida, for example, imposes a special service charge for requests taking more than 15 minutes.

Oh, well, if Florida does it, it must be OK.


"More than my mortgage payment"

From the same story: apparently some local governments figured that if it's good enough for Pat, it's good enough for them.

In January 2013, commissioners in the Nash County town of Middlesex adopted a new policy charging extra for any records request that took more than 30 minutes. Last month, a local woman paid $415 for copies of a year’s worth of the mayor’s emails, which included 20 cents per page copied and six hours at $34 an hour (the mayor’s salary and benefits) to cover his time.

“It’s more than my mortgage payment,” Becky Strickland told The Wilson Daily Times.

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

FOIA fees

Perhaps Pat should be looking at the Federal government's model for FOIA requests:

There is no initial fee required to submit a FOIA request, but the FOIA does provide for the charging of certain types of fees in some instances.

For a typical requester the agency can charge for the time it takes to search for records and for duplication of those records. There is usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication.

You may always include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If an agency estimates that the total fees for processing your request will exceed $25, it will notify you in writing of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. If you agree to pay fees for a records search, be aware that you may be required to pay such fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or, if records are located, even if they are determined to be entirely exempt from disclosure.