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Keiser's Role A column by Trevor Keiser

Fees for FOIA

May 26, 2010 - A few weeks ago. I sent an e-mail to the Independence Township Clerk's office requesting information concerning healthcare per Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

I knew the only way I would receive this information would be through "formal request."

Well the "free" information I asked for came with a price tag of $24. Thirteen of those dollars were used to make me a copy of 26 pages at 50 cents a page. The other $11 were for a half hour of time. It took to make those copies.

What I find interesting is I electronically sent in my request, but my request was granted to me in paper format. I find that interesting because the clerk's office has probably been the biggest advocate of the use of electronics and going paperless. Everything from paperless agendas to record retention programs.

Not to mention every two weeks I get a board packet e-mailed to me with anywhere between 60 to 200 some pages. Some of which were scanned pieces of paper.

So why is the clerk's office so quick to hand out stacks of papers with a FOIA request? Is it because it's a nice way to gain a few extra bucks?

I know it doesn't cost that much. According to Office Depot website I can get a ream of copy paper (500 sheets) for $5.29 that equals 11 cents a page. I can get 2,500 sheets for $23.29, which equals 0.009 cents a page.

There is what is known as the "spirit of the law," which says "we desire to be open, honest, and show complete transparency by allowing anyone who asks for information which is public."

Then there is the "letter of the law," which says "we have the right to charge you up to x amount for copies of anything you ask for and as well as the time it took to gather the information and copy it for you."

The letter of the law doesn't really show a township that's willing to be completely honest and open. Instead it says "our transparency will come with a price tag." What if someone doesn't have an extra $24. Do they receive a sweet smile with the response "sorry Charlie?"

Perhaps the clerk's office should rethink the FOIA policy in place, save some trees, and truly become open, honest, and completely transparent.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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