Posts Tagged ‘Public Records’

David Schick spent months on a $16 million story— before hitting a nearly $3,000 wall.  In Schick’s words, “The wall took the form of exorbitant Open Records Act costs.”

Since late last spring semester, the editor-in-chief of The Collegian has been investigating a $16 million budget deficit at Georgia Perimeter College and the accompanying controversial removal of the school president.

Over the summer, a new number entered– and has continued to partially hold up– Schick’s investigation: $2,963.39.  GPC administrators initially charged the Collegian that amount to fulfill a standard open records request for documents related to the budget turmoil.  The sudden, extreme fee was a gigantic deviation from GPC’s response to three previous Collegian requests.  For those requests, the school supplied more than 1,200 pages of documents, which required 39 hours of staff work to ferret out and compile, for FREE.

So, to review…

First three requests over the summer: handled for free.

Fourth request, very similar to the first three: Close to $3,000.

In a letter to the school, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte called the fourth request charge “excessive.”  After the SPLC intervention, GPC dropped the fee to a still seemingly egregious $1,900.

Local legal counsel assisting the Collegian– obtained through the SPLC referral network– described the latter amount as “arbitrary, capricious, and deliberately designed to obstruct access to public information of obvious critical concern.”

According to the counsel’s separate letter to the school, the paper “is willing to pay $100 . . . to obtain the documents requested.”  Schick is hopeful for a resolution soon.

My Take: GPC officials, a bit of free advice.  You cannot erase a $16 million deficit by over-charging people who are requesting the truth.  Your school’s obviously in trouble.  The student paper simply wants to help, in part by providing answers about how you got into this mess and how you can clean it up.  Obstructing their efforts just seems lame, and out of step with the transparency needed to right your revenue ship.  As anyone who’s followed Wall Street knows, moral and economic deficits often run together.

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A 20-Cent Public Records Fight Pits Cal Poly vs. Student Newspaper

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An odd public records fight involving one email, two dimes, and a four-hour drive recently played out between the student newspaper and administrators at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Combatant #1: Sean McMinn, a reporter at The Mustang Daily, seeking a legally-allowable copy of an email for an interesting story he was writing on school policy involving professors’ in-class political statements.

Combatant #2: California State University’s Office of Public Affairs, which handles hundreds of requests for all schools within the CSU system and likes to play things by the book.

A 30-second recap of the fight (hat tip Los Angeles Times): McMinn asks informally for a copy of an email sent by Cal State’s chancellor pertinent to his story.  Public Affairs refuses.  McMinn files a formal public records request.  Public Affairs relents.  But they inform him he needs to either drive to their office four hours away to look at it or receive an email copy that comes with a required 20-cent charge.  Payable only in advance.  And only by check.  And only a check sent via the mail.  Which would take days.  And thus cause McMinn to miss his deadline.  Up against the ropes, McMinn asks if a friend closer to the office could stop by and look at the email for him.  No.  Late in the fight and growing desperate, McMinn asks if an exception could be made regarding the crazily low fee?  I mean, after all, it’s only 20 cents.  No.

The outcome of the fight, according to the Times: “McMinn scrambled and found a source that forwarded him a copy [of the needed email]– just before deadline.”

The analysis of one ringside commentator (OK, online commenter): “Do all CSU HQ staff have to pass a knucklehead exam to qualify for employment, or just the ones involved in this story?”  (My answer is pending a 20-cent check clearance.)

Happy Saturday. :)

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“Campus gossip Web site tests freedom of speech”: One student’s take on the continuing Juicy Campus saga (Poughkeepsie Journal)

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“Students see the possibilities”: A journalism professor writes about what keeps students joining J&MC programs (Miami Herald)

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“College students learn records may be open, courtesy not a given”: A rundown of j-students’ experiences gathering public documents in River Falls, Wisc., as part of an information gathering course (River Falls Journal)

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“Back home again in Indiana”: Sports journalism program starting at Indiana University  (Reporter-Times)

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