Ferguson

City of Ferguson Charges Vice More Than $1,200 for Open Records Request, Turns Over Just Seven Emails

Stonewalling with high fees?

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Vice reports:

Blow, man, blow!
Jesse Walker

In the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, police officers in Ferguson, Missouri feared that people in the community were "gunning" for them, and officers were having a "rough" time dealing with the news media, according to an email written by Assistant Police Chief Al Eickhoff.

Eickhoff's email was one of only seven internal emails the City of Ferguson turned over to VICE News in response to an open-records request filed in late September for records pertaining to Brown's death and the protests that immediately followed. For those seven emails, the City of Ferguson charged VICE News a fee of more than $1,200.

The city clerk told Vice that there were so few messages because a server outage had interrupted the local government's email service.

Vice isn't the only organization to face remarkably high fees for Ferguson record requests. A little over a month ago, the Associated Press described several similar cases:

Nixonstalgia! Catch it!
Garry Trudeau

"The first line of defense is to make the requester go away," said Rick Blum, who coordinates the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media groups that advocates for open government. He said charging hefty fees "to simply cut and paste is a popular tactic."

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.

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.

The search requested by Vice took a city contractor five hours to complete. That "extra computer programming" must be pretty pricey.

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  1. Why shouldn’t they do this? They can get away with it. So the media grumbles a bit. Not going to bother them, not going to cost them their jobs. Worst that happens is the law changes after the fact.

    In other words, it’s FYTW in action once again.

    1. Ehhh, we got Black Folks dead. I think the media’s going to hound this one a wee bit longer.

  2. “In the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, police officers in Ferguson, Missouri feared that people in the community were “gunning” for them, and officers were having a “rough” time dealing with the news media,”…

    I’m sure I’ve got that violin around here somewhere…

  3. The search requested by Vice took a city contractor five hours to complete.

    If it took a government worker five hours, then I bet it would have taken a private sector worker five minutes.

    1. No no. It was a government contractor. To make sure it costs even more.

  4. The ACLU could sue on behalf of these organizations. Seems like these fees are sufficiently high to warrant a judgment that they’re in violation of whatever open records laws there are.

  5. The city clerk told Vice that there were so few messages because a server outage had interrupted the local government’s email service.

    So IT services are something of a major barrier for our government officials these days.

    Wouldn’t this be cause for Shrike to pop his precious head up and declare this a fake scandal?

    1. Uh, IT services are a godsend to our government officials. Now they can claim “server outages” and other bullshit just caused whatever info pesky journalists want to see to disappear. It’s like magic. Before computers they would have had to claim a fire or flood or something did it, and that was a lot more inconvenient. Now they can avoid responsibility with even less effort!

  6. Clearly, what’s needed is more investment into government computer systems. A tax increase will be required to pay for it. But the increase in performance and service will be worth it.

    1. Yeah, the next clerical fees will reflect the amortized costs of that new computer system.
      Amortized all in one EZ payment!

      1. By jove, I think you’ve got it!

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