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News submits FOIA requests

June 25, 2014 - Last week, The Clarkston News requested information regarding a traffic study and storm water issues for 148 N. Main Street, the site of a coffee shop approved by Clarkston City Council at their Monday night meeting.

City Manager Carol Eberhardt was asked for the information on Monday, June 16. She responded, saying she received the request late that night, and could find and send the traffic study and storm drain report.

"No problem," this reporter wrote back to Eberhardt on Wednesday. "I would like to get those. Please let me know which is the best way to get them. Electronic would be great."

Eberhardt later wrote she was out of the office until Friday, but would find and send the reports. She added City Clerk Sandy Miller would return to City Hall the next day, but may not be able to find the reports.

"The reports are attached to emails so she probably can't find them," she said.

On Friday, June 20, The Clarkston News asked for the reports again, and was told to submit a Freedom of Information Act Request.

"Please be advised that you need to send a FOIA request for information you are seeking," Eberhardt responded in an email. "By law the city has five days to respond and can advise you that we need a 10 day extension. You are required to pay for the time it takes the staff to do the research needed to fulfill your request and we will send you an estimate of those charges before the work begins in order for you approve the cost," said Eberhardt.

Later in the day, Eberhardt was asked what had changed over the course of a few days.

"On Tuesday you said the information was available. What changed? What kind of research do you and your staff need to do for these reports? I will come in and look through files, and do research myself. I need an appointment for next week," this reporter wrote.

After the email was sent, Eberhardt responded by saying she would send the information but that The Clarkston News must invoke FOIA for future requests and may have to wait for the information.

"The information is available however by law the city has five days to respond. That five day time period allows for me or my staff to find the time to find what you are requesting. The city has numerous requests that require staff time as well as the regular day to day work. We are more than happy to fulfill your requests, however please be sensitive to the fact that requests cannot always be met immediately," she said.

The Clarkston News also submitted an additional request regarding a public notice issue.

Eberhardt also said an appointment is not needed to come into city hall and explore public records.

"I am going to find the traffic study now and send it to you but understand that in the future I am asking to do a FOIA request and allow for the five day time period and perhaps an extension if need be," she said.

Josh Harris of Clarkston commented on the issue after the series of emails were posted on Facebook.

Harris said it seems like government entities no longer exist to provide public service.

"They exist to build mammoth township/city halls, state-of-the-art police and fire departments with services that are rarely used, highly inefficient schools and fully funded retirement plans," he wrote.

"Meanwhile, roads and infrastructure crumble, maintenance workers hide in their trucks and our property is reassessed every year to squeeze another couple bucks off us. I have zero faith in the government, at any level, actually providing the citizens the service in which they are paid to perform."

The Clarkston News has submitted numerous FOIA requests this year to obtain information from city officials, after Eberhardt sent an email to a Sherman Publications reporter in February stating that she no longer wished to communicate with the newspaper.

In another email, Miller, the city's FOIA Coordinator cited the FOIA law and requested an extention for information about public notices.

The email stated additional time was needed for research.

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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