According to an article by the Associated Press, officials in Ferguson, Missouri are charging almost 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they turn over files under public record laws with details about the fatal shooting of Mike Brown.
Under the State of Missouri’s Sunshine Law, meant to show the state’s commitment to openness in government, the city is limited in how much it can charge for copying and research costs as and when responding to a records request. The city is demanding high fees for records that could be given away for free, if determined that the material was in the public’s best interest to see.
This move clearly discourages journalists and activists from investigating the shooting. The AP gave an example of how the city is handling records requests:
“In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day’s work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk’s office, and it didn’t include costs to review the emails or release them. The AP has not paid for the search because it has yet to negotiate the cost.”
The Radio Television Digital News Association, a media advocacy group, called for the Missouri Attorney General to investigate Ferguson for charging high fees for records requests. Mike Cavender, the group’s director, said in a statement:
“These exorbitant fees are merely a tactic of delay and intimidation. The public has a right to these records without interference.”
Since the death of Mike Brown, news organizations, nonprofit groups and citizens have requested records including police reports, information about Brown and information about Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.
According to Rick Blum, the coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, the first line of defense is to always make the requester go away. The AP reports that news outlets like Buzzfeed were told that they would have to pay thousands of dollars for emails and memos and the Washington Post said that Ferguson wanted no less than $200 for their requests.
Source: Associated Press | Image: Getty