Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Excessive fees violate information act

Cyndi Klapperich has a great FYI column in the Northwest Herald.

Excessive fees violate information act

[published on Tue, Jul 25, 2006]
If you're a representative of a public body charging 25 cents or more per page for Freedom of Information Act responses, you should read this.

You might want to invite Terry Mutchler of the Illinois attorney general's office out for a training session before a citizen complaint draws her attention your way.

Here's the law.

The Freedom of Information Act permits a public body to charge a reasonable copying fee "not to exceed the actual cost of reproduction and not including the costs of any search or review of the records."
That means it's acceptable, when a posted fee structure is in place as also required by law, to charge for the cost of your paper, ink and the operation of your machinery. It is not acceptable, in fact it is illegal, to charge for staff time.

If you truly believe that someone is using the Freedom of Information Act purely to harass, again, call Mutchler. It does happen. She knows. But she also can help you get beyond it without breaking the law in the process.

A message I received on my answering machine recently from Lakemoor Village President Virginia Povidas indicated that confusion reigns regarding the Freedom of Information Act and fees. And I'm certain Lakemoor is not alone in its confusion.

First, there's the fee itself. Lakemoor charges 25 cents a page, about 17 cents more than is charged by any of several for-profit printing companies I contacted in the McHenry area Monday. If a place that's out to make a buck charges 8 cents a page, and Lakemoor charges 25 cents, well, you do the math.
Lakemoor routinely has charged the Northwest Herald this fee in recent weeks, although a request for documentation of its copying costs was fulfilled for free.

Those documents show that Lakemoor pays less than a penny a page for its copying paper. It's more difficult to calculate what its per-page ink costs are. But one receipt, from Canon Business Solutions, indicates a cost of slightly more than a penny and a half per metered page.

Further, Povidas said in a voice mail she left me that the decision to charge was because of the "time it's taking the girls to gather all of this information." Please reread the act, Virginia, or peruse it for the very first time. Charging for staff time is prohibited.

A quick check of just a couple of other public bodies indicates that Lakemoor is not alone in charging beyond what could reasonably be considered "actual copying costs." The village of Johnsburg also charges 25 cents a page, and Huntley School District 158 charges 50 cents a page.

Mutchler, the public access counselor for the Illinois attorney general's office, said anyone who believed that a public body was charging more than was legal under the act was welcome to file a complaint with her office. A few sentences generally suffice.

Call (217) 782-1090 or visit for information.

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