Monday, February 21, 2011

Open-records opinions focus on request costs

Fees to prepare answers to open-records requests were at the heart of two decisions issued Feb. 14 by the attorney general’s office. In one, the office held the Russell County School District improperly denied a request from the editors of the online Russell Springs News to access email logs for the accounts of two employees and set an excessive fee to have the work done. In the other, the office upheld a $34.66 charge for preparation of a list of contractors sought from the Russellville Independent School District.

Russell Springs News editors Louis and Tonya Stargel sought access to the school district’s email server logs for seven and a half months beginning May 1, 2010. (The News apparently began publication on Sept. 8, according to its archives.) The Stargels specifically asked to inspect emails from Sherri West, a former district employee; Kathy Hammond, principal of Russell Springs Elementary School, and Kenny Pickett, superintendent of the district.

The school district denied the request on Jan. 10, arguing the request was too broad and would impose an unreasonable burden. The district estimated it would require six work days, at an estimated total cost of $1,860, to compile the information. According to the attorney general’s decision, the school district offered to provide the information if the newspaper wanted to pay for the work.

The decision said the district could only charge routine copy fees if the newspaper requests the records, because the school district’s contention that it could charge more based on the commercial intent of the Russell Springs News was not valid.

In the Russellville school request, Marty Owens sought a list of contractors and subcontractors who worked on two school construction projects. The district, according to the attorney general’s decision, had no such list and chose to compile it rather than deny Owens’ request or make records available so that he could compile it himself. The district was justified in levying the $34.66 fee to cover the cost of preparing the lists Owens sought, the decision said.

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