Sunday, January 16, 2011

FREE PRESS? Sunshine Law invoice shocks Columbia Tribune columnist

COLUMBIA, 1/17/11  (Beat Byte) -- To citizens of Columbia facing one of the toughest economies on record, City Hall has lately delivered one wallet-draining message after another.    

We're gonna raise your parking fines, add more cameras to ticket your cars, and boost rates for virtually every city service.   
Transparency -- that most basic of all government promises --  is gonna cost a bundle, too.  
Nearly $37/hour, according to a recent email exchange between Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Ken Midkiff and Jill Stedem, City of Columbia public works information officer. 

Hunting for information about maximum allowable contaminant concentrations and stormwater discharge, Midkiff (above, Pitch Weekly photo) was hit with the same sticker shock that recently hampered City of Columbia public works superintendent Bill Weitkemper:  the high price of document requests under the Sunshine Law, as interpreted at the newly-enlarged, $25 million Daniel Boone City Hall complex.

With the documents, Stedem sent Midkiff an invoice.  "$36.94 per hour seems incredibly high.  What is this based on?" Midkiff inquired.   "This rate seems designed to prevent access to public records, but the Sunshine Act is designed to allow public access." 

"The rate is based on the rate of the Systems Analyst who pulled the records from the Archive System," Stedem replied.   "In situations where a high-level employee must perform the task, the requester shall be billed at that staff member’s hourly rate, plus 19% partial benefits."  

"I do not understand why it is that emails of just last week were 'archived' and why only a 'high level employee' can retrieve the records," Midkiff emailed Stedem.  "This would seem to be an easy task that almost anyone can do.  As I read the Sunshine Act, a 'reasonable rate' can be charged.  I consider this unreasonable." 

But Stedem didn't reduce the charges, leaving Midkiff to conclude that City Hall's "continued insistence on this exorbitant amount is an attempt to shield public records from those unable to pay.  This flies in the face of the Sunshine Act."  

CORRECTION/ADDITION:   Ken Midkiff notes that Jill Stedem did not send me the records I had requested.  Only when I pony up the bucks (a bit over $106 - $36.94 x 2, 28.16 x 1, plus a minimal charge ($1.00) for a CD containing the records ) will the records be released to me.



  1. Seriously the City of Columbia needs to be thoroughly investigated top to bottom and turn inside out by a State Attorney General's Investigation or even the Department of Justice for that matter as these outrageous rates and all the back room shenanigans are really going to far.

    What next going to charge to see a City Council meeting? Charge extra if you pay your bills in cash? Charge extra if you flush more than once because it is a very long way to City Hall?

    Where does the madness end is what we as concerned citizens should be asking ourselves off this City Government.

  2. Well, don't be surprised if that cost includes review of the contents by a city lawyer to make sure nothing not covered by FOIA accidentally gets released.

    I have a friend on the city council of a similarly sized city, and they always have a lawyer review everything that goes out in an FOI request. Are the trying to stiffle the request? No. That are just trying to make sure they do not release anything that might get them sued by any of the parties mentioned in the e-mails.

  3. A message archive system is not used to just retain old messages, such is often used to maintain a proper record of messages contained in a email system esp for organizations subject to sunshine laws.

    Yes, a third party "techy" person is required to retrieve such from an archive system since normal email account holders should not have access to such, otherwise those email account holders could jeopardize the validity of messages stored there.

    A message archive system also permits a timely delivery time of requested email as with the average person, it might be easy to print off 10 or 15 messages from your Yahoo account but what do you do when there are several thousand? An email message archive system can handle the task of producing a large quantity of messages in a timely manner that without it, could take three or four times longer than having a person do such by hand.

  4. These folks are absolutely drunk on power. I avoid downtown and parking meters by any means necessary! There greedy folks can starve to death for all I care! The Missouri Attorney General need to review more than the cost of Sunshine Law Request Costs! What a bunch of crooks!

    Arch Brooks,
    Former Candidate For Mayor
    Columbia Missouri

  5. Glad we got the update so I can say: $106? That is all? Seriously, that hardly seems excessive at all for 3 hours of work by IT professionals.

    Midkiff is probably just shocked because he is used to doing taxpayer subsidized FOI requests with the Federal and State government. This time he is actually being asked to pay the full cost.

  6. Ken's press release inflating the $106 charge to an annual salary amount of $70K+ was silly. There was no reason to go off into the sillysphere like that as it distracts from the real message.