Student Journalists Sue Community College For Ridiculously High Fees On Open Records Request
from the avoiding-open-records dept
With various open records and freedom of information laws, many government organizations don’t like the fact that they may have to reveal things that can be seen as embarrassing. Sometimes they try to get around this simply by refusing to disclose things they’re legally obliged to, but that can backfire. So a sneakier way of hiding is to simply claim that the “cost” associated with retrieving the requested information is quite high. Most open records laws allow the agency to pass on any reasonable costs (and usually there are ways to get exemptions from those fees).
However, it appears that the student journalists at Johnson County Community College in Kansas were pretty shocked when the university told the student paper that it would cost $24,130.72 to provide staff emails and documents requested by the students. In a related issue, a request was made for all emails between two individuals over a seven month period… and the college responded that it would cost $47,426 to fulfill the request. After thinking that seemed crazy, the journalists resubmitted the request, but asked for just the emails between those two individuals for a single day, chosen at random, along with a list of all the open records requests the school had received… and was told that request would cost $23,630.96. So, then the journalists sent another request dropping the open records list, and just choosing a single day (one day after the one in the previous request) and was told to get just those emails it would cost $9,745.96… even though the total number of emails was around 20.
The school claims that it would cost that much because they’d have to spend $5,250 to contract with an outside agency for 25 hours of work to get the emails. The students (along with the Student Press Law Center) believe that it’s really about a college simply putting forth bogus fees to avoid having to comply with open records requests. Thus, they’re now suing the college for failing to obey the Kansas Open Records Act, which requires only reasonable fees to retrieve the information requested.