Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Did Grant County Officials Violate the Open Records Law By Charging $200 for Eight DVDs?

A couple days ago WRTV super-reporter Kara Kenney did a story on a woman who died at the Grant County jail from an asthma attack.  It's an interesting story that touches upon an issue I've raised a few times on this blog, the failure of jail officials to provide proper medical care. 

But I write instead to highlight a particular part of Kenney's story that is very important to people who seek public records.  
Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney filed a public records request with the Grant County Sheriff's Office on May 20 and May 27 to find out what happened with Kendra Shaw and to obtain jail policies.
When the sheriff’s office did not provide records, Kenney filed a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. 
On June 24, the sheriff’s office, through its attorney, issued an apology for not complying with the public records law and provided 42 pages of documents. 
Kenney also requested video from the jail showing Shaw. That video was released after RTV6 paid $200 for copies of eight DVDs.
$200 for eight DVDs?  The discs themselves can't be more than 50 cents apiece. 

IC 5-14-3-8(d) applies to local governments charging for public records:
(d) This subsection applies to a public agency that is not a state agency. The fiscal body (as defined in IC 36-1-2-6) of the public agency, or the governing body, if there is no fiscal body, shall establish a fee schedule for the certification or copying of documents. The fee for certification of documents may not exceed five dollars ($5) per document. The fee for copying documents may not exceed the greater of:
(1) ten cents ($0.10) per page for copies that are not color copies or twenty-five cents ($0.25) per page for color copies; or
(2) the actual cost to the agency of copying the document.  As used in this subsection, "actual cost" means the cost of paper and the per-page cost for use of copying or facsimile equipment and does not include labor costs or overhead costs. A fee established under this subsection must be uniform throughout the public agency and uniform to all purchasers.
Subsection (g) of IC 5-14-3-8 outlines allowable charges for electronic records:
(g) Except as provided by subsection (h), for providing a duplicate of a computer tape, computer disc, microfilm, or similar or analogous record system containing information owned by the public agency or entrusted to it, a public agency may charge a fee, uniform to all purchasers, that does not exceed the sum of the following:
(1) The agency's direct cost of supplying the information in that form.
(2) The standard cost for selling the same information to the public in the form of a publication if the agency has published the information and made the publication available for sale.
It would appear that the only charge that should have been made to WRTV was for the actual cost of the eight DVDs.  It's important to nip this practice in the bud, before other local governments start copying what Grant County is doing here.  Hopefully WRTV's attorneys will contact Grant County with the law in hand and demand a refund of the $200 charge above the cost of the DVDs.

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