from the filing-charges dept
Say what you want, but one thing has become abundantly clear since the whole Ferguson debacle began: the people running and policing that city aren't interested in your concerns. Throughout this entire process, the city and its police force have obfuscated the facts and people involved in the shooting of a civilian, they have cynically released information and videos when it suits them, and they've treated journalists covering the story with the kind of contempt they normally reserve for their own constituents. And now, utilizing a method previously beta-tested by both local and federal law enforcement agencies, they've decided the best way to respond to the ongoing outcry is to try to charge insane amounts for FOIA requests.
Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public's interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown.Allow that to sink in for a moment and marinade in your brain juices: information that could be given for free if it was of public interest is instead being billed at ridiculously high rates. Does anyone seriously want to argue that more transparency out of the Ferguson government isn't in the public's interest? Of course not. This is all about intimidating journalists and trying to put roadblocks in front of likely damning information. Ferguson has a public relations problem in the truest form and their strategy appears to be to freeze out journalists trying to provide information to the public. That won't win them any friends.
In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day's work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk's office, and it didn't include costs to review the emails or release them.
And don't think that this strategy is used rarely.
The Washington Post was told it would need to pay $200 at minimum for its requests, including city officials' emails since Aug. 9 discussing Brown's shooting, citizen complaints against Ferguson officers and Wilson's personnel file. The website Buzzfeed requested in part emails and memos among city officials about Ferguson's traffic-citation policies and changes to local elections, but was told it would cost unspecified thousands of dollars to fulfill.Searching emails by keyword now equals "programming?" Brilliant! Although I suppose it's not as egregious as suggesting shooting unarmed civilians equals "policing."
Inquiries about Ferguson's public records requests were referred to the city's attorney, Stephanie Karr, who declined to respond to repeated interview requests from the AP since earlier this month. Through a spokesman late Monday, Karr said Missouri law can require fees but she didn't address why charges specific to the AP's request were nearly tenfold the lowest salary in the city clerk's office. Karr said searching emails for key words constitutes "extra computer programming" that can bring added costs.