Since Sunshine week is coming up, I wanted to do a series of articles on my experiences with requesting information, and also comment further on FOIA.
If you remember the story last week, a school division superintendent here in Virginia was trying to say that he wasn’t going to take my FOIA request because it wasn’t written.
After asking three times last week for the assistant and the superintendent to take my contact information for the request, I wrote an email to Dr. Cecil Snead, Superintendent of Buckingham County Schools.
Dr. Snead had been having trouble, including on the phone, understanding what I was asking for.Emails and the telephone call did not clear it up. He even told me that the value of submitting a written request is that they get the information right.
All told, required written requests, willful misunderstanding of the 4 or 5 times I explained to him what I wanted.
Here is a snippet of the law regarding prices charged for photocopies of documents:
2.2-3704(F) A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication.
The breakdown of the cost for those copies’ actual cost, as it states in the above portion of Virginia Code. That’s it. I don’t want 40 pages of documents or anything. Just the actual cost calculation of the copies charge.
After much back and forth, including a timely mention of the schools’ attorney, Dr Snead sent me a letter that basically said that he could do things that aren’t in the law. Written requests, willful misunderstanding of the 4 or 5 times I explained to him what I wanted.
Here is what he sent back to me:
February 24, 2014
Dear Mr. Brooks:
Please find below information you requested with regard to the justification of $0.25 per copy for FOIA document replication.
FOIA expressly permits public bodies to make a “reasonable charge” for the location and duplication of requested records, which can take into account numerous factors. Not unlike other school divisions, consideration is given to wages of staff search time, actual resources used for copying (lease of copier and materials), and incidentals (postage, courier). The $0.25 charge has been in effect for many years, and has not been increased in recent years to allow for increased costs of staff time, equipment, paper, and the other factors mentioned. It’s important to note that not all FOIA requests manifest into hard documents. Some of our requests can be fulfilled through electronic media; thus minimalizing or even negating a charge to the requester, depending upon the time committed.
Cecil C. Snead, II, Ed. D.
(Arrived 10:30AM 2-25-14)
I gave up trying to argue the points with this person, but it is indicative of the level of misinformation and outright myth-keeping that goes on in Virginia’s counties and other entities.
I sent a highlighted portion of the law to him, since his one day-backdated official letterhead letter saying nothing arrived ten hours late.
I have little patience with public officials that claim ignorance of the law and think nothing of making decisions and spending our money, mostly in secret.
It needs to end, now. We can’t afford it, it’s wrong, and it’s the law.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?