Here's a creative twist on Washington Monument Syndrome–California citizens are now encountering "state and local government officials [who are] increasingly…blaming budget cuts and furloughs when they withhold or delay the release of information requested under the state Public Records Act." Some examples, care of the Sacramento Bee:
• In The Bee's investigation of deadly lapses at Sacramento County Child Protective Services, reporters discovered scores of agency employees with criminal records, including a registered sex offender. They requested e-mails for a few administrators to learn whether they knew about that individual's conviction. The county demanded $7,049 – 53 hours at $133 per hour – to produce the e-mails. The Bee declined to pay, the e-mails never were released and the public never learned whether administrators had a clue.
• To find out if Sacramento County unduly spared managers in last year's massive layoffs, a Bee reporter requested a list of employees by category over the last few years. The county did the work, for which it billed $1,500, for "data compilation, extraction and programming." Because The Bee would not pay, the list never was released and readers did not learn whether managers received special treatment.
• Voiceofsandiego.org, a nonprofit news Web site, asked the San Diego County District Attorney's Office for data on enhancements in criminal sentencing. Enhancement charges, such as "great bodily harm" or gang activity, often are applied in controversial ways to increase penalties. Some counties routinely post such information online. The reporter encountered a novel fee demand: $1,100 for "server time" – time the agency's computer was tied up processing data for his request, a percentage of the cost of the computers, software, electricity, and employee benefits for programmers. That request remains in stalemate. […]
California State University, Sacramento's fee policies have created seemingly irrational bureaucratic delays. For example, the university recently required a Bee reporter to send a check for $1.80 before it would release a nine-page document. The process actually cost the university money, because the fee was lower than the cost of processing the payment.