2017-10-05 / News

Copies of Public Information Become Cheaper in St. Ignace

By Kevin R. Hess

St. Ignace City Council updated its city policy concerning Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, pursuant to a state law enacted in 2015. During its September 18 meeting, council approved fees for providing public records to the public. The city will charge 10¢ per copied page and 67¢ per CD for digital copy requests. The former policy charged $1 per copied page and $10 per CD.

Any request that must be mailed will be charged the current postage rate plus the cost of the envelope. Costs for labor are determined by the hourly wage of the lowest paid employee capable of fulfilling the request, regardless of whether that employee is available, or is the one who actually fulfills the request. For information that must be separated or redacted, the city can charge labor consistent with the hourly wage of the lowest paid and qualified employee. Labor costs can only be charged in increments of 15 minutes or more, with all partial time increments rounded down.

In January 2015, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law, a bill that proposed significant changes to Michigan’s FOIA that make obtaining public records easier and less expensive to obtain. Under the new law, which went into effect July 1, 2015, government agencies are not allowed to charge more than 10¢ per page for copies of public records and they are subject to fines for delayed responses or for intentionally not following the law. The changes were made, in part, to increase transparency between local government and the public, and access to public records.

In addition, the new law allows people requesting records to take legal action if they believe they are being overcharged, or if they believe the public body is refusing or delaying the release of public records. The court can assess a $1,000 fine to public bodies they believe have overcharged requestors. A fine of $500 to $2,000 can be assessed for refusing or delaying the release of records, and a fine of $2,500 to $7,500 can be assessed if a public body is found to be willfully and intentionally failing to follow the law. All fines are paid to the state.

Michigan’s FOIA was established in 1976, shortly following the Watergate scandal in Washington. Media outlets routinely use FOIA to access public records on government contracting, hiring, spending, and more, and rights of access apply to all citizens.

Another change in the law requires local governments to “establish procedures and guidelines to implement this act and create a written public summary of the specific procedures and guidelines relevant to the general public” regarding how to submit written requests, fee calculations, and avenues for challenge and appeal. If applicable, the local government must post and maintain the guidelines on its Web site. Free copies of the guidelines must be made available upon verbal or written request in a timely manner. Any public body that has not established procedures and guidelines and made them available to the public free of charge cannot charge any fees until they are in compliance.

Another change to the law requires local governments to provide records electronically instead of on paper if the requestor seeks them in that format. Any public body that misses a deadline for responding to a request must discount the fees by 5% for each day the response is late, up to a maximum discount of 50%.

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