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FOIA and other requests for document headaches

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
377
Points
16
Yeah, good old FOIA.
...and like the easiest FOIA to respond to ever. As I have explained to people in the past: if anybody asks for EVERY email I have in my possession with your name on it, it's as easy on my end as "search, select all, save, send."

Very little is confidential in a planning office anyway. The smart developers don't tell us anything until it's a done deal.
 

Hink

OH....IO
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
14,914
Points
40
FOIA doesn't work in local government. Sunshine laws do, but people just like to claim FOIA! without understanding what that covers.

Also, asking for all emails from the community for the last six years, is probably too broad. Being specific is key to any public records request. The problem is that people either A. Don't want to be specific to hope to "find" something, or B. Can't be specific because they don't really know what they are looking for.
 
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Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
377
Points
16
FOIA doesn't work in local government. Sunshine laws do, but people just like to claim FOIA! without understanding what that covers.

Also, asking for all emails from the community for the last six years, is probably too broad. Being specific is key to any public records request. The problem is that people either A. Don't want to be specific to hope to "find" something, or B. Can't be specific because they don't really know what they are looking for.
Yeah, I don't bother correcting their vocabulary. All the ones I have dealt with have been from one big out-of-state firm or another doing due diligence on a property purchase. I just give them what I have and off they go. Luckily the records are organized enough to allow me to do that pretty easily. Our laws require us to make and provide a physical copy, for a reasonable fee, if we have the technology to do so.

When we offer to have them come in and shape their search into something useful, they almost never take us upon it. They just want to check a box and say they got local records.
 

kms

Cyburbian
Messages
5,902
Points
31
We had a request recently from a local naysayer. I gathered the info the next day and sent him an email that it was available in our office for pickup.

The packet stills sits on our desk some 3 months later.
We can toss them after 60 days, and people can’t get more records when they don’t pay for the copies.
 

Veloise

Cyburbian
Messages
5,611
Points
28
FOIA doesn't work in local government. Sunshine laws do, but people just like to claim FOIA! without understanding what that covers.

...
I started acting as the FOIA coordinator for my last township job, as I "came from away" and drove past a Kinko's every morning. (The in-house copier couldn't produce larger than letter size.) A state DNR guy always filed a FOIA as it meant the agency got paid for the effort.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,857
Points
41
My last job I started handing out quotes to people - okay this one guy - Basically, it will take X hours of staff time to do this request and we charge so much per hour. You must pay staff time up front and copy fees on the back end. We won't start until that happens. A lot of requests were left undone.
 

kms

Cyburbian
Messages
5,902
Points
31
My last job I started handing out quotes to people - okay this one guy - Basically, it will take X hours of staff time to do this request and we charge so much per hour. You must pay staff time up front and copy fees on the back end. We won't start until that happens. A lot of requests were left undone.
Wow. We can’t charge for staff time.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
6,147
Points
27
My last job I started handing out quotes to people - okay this one guy - Basically, it will take X hours of staff time to do this request and we charge so much per hour. You must pay staff time up front and copy fees on the back end. We won't start until that happens. A lot of requests were left undone.
Wow. We can’t charge for staff time.
Yeah we used to do this, but our attorney now has advised us against continuing the process. It's annoying.

I have a lunch date with new girl in finance, the one I talked about previously. Hope it goes well.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,857
Points
41
Current job I don't deal in records. We have a whole department for that that just covers planning and development stuff. City Clerk covers the rest. Last job staff time for requests was clearly posted, but I only used it for the one guy who asked for "everything" on whatever. I even clearly posted that any request that says everything, anything, all, etc. would be charged staff time and you should narrow your request to avoid that. I also charged up front because this guy would never want to pay. He just expected I would get all the files and he could sit and look through it all taking pictures with his phone. I didn't care about the taking pictures, just the waste of time digging up files. I also made him pay for the request from some other department that he never paid for before he could look at my stuff. Not sure how well it would stand up in court, but that guy deserved it.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,994
Points
17
Wow. We can’t charge for staff time.
Is this a state-by-state thing? Here, we can charge upfront if the cost is going to be more than either $150 or $200. The cost we charge has to be reasonable (based on actual staff time to collect the information and then the cost to make copies usually). I had a couple of doozies of FOIA requests at my previous job over some contentious issues.

We also had a guy ask about all regulations regarding camping on private property. Since he framed it as a FOIA request, I started to respond, and then realized that there was a huge rabbit trail of issues that would need to be addressed in order to respond to "all regulations" (trespassing, compensation, taxation, etc.). Our lawyer wrote him a letter that the request didn't qualify as FOIA for some reason about it being too vague and impossible to define.
 

WSU MUP Student

Cyburbian
Messages
9,782
Points
34
I've been here about 13 years and have had a few FOIA requests come across my desk in that time but anytime that happens we send it directly upstairs to corporation counsel and let them handle everything. Thankfully, I never hear about it after I send it to the lawyers.
 

Maister

Chairman of the bored
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
27,309
Points
63
Moderator note:

split from RTDNTOTO

I can't count how many vague or clueless FOIA requests I've looked at over the years. A particularly memorable one was worded something like "want all records showing favoritism and cronyism demonstrated by [soandso] when he denied [suchandsuch] permit for me but handed out approvals to all his buddies."

Essentially, this individual was asking: "please do whatever research you need to do to make the case for me that I'm being singled out and treated unfairly and will happily pay the 10 cents fee per page copied if it will show that."
 
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Hink

OH....IO
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
14,914
Points
40
We can only charge what it costs for the media (i.e. if you need it on a DVD, lots of copies, etc.). Staff time is not able to be charged. This is free "work" that is done by your humble public servants.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,857
Points
41
Kansas specifically allowed charging staff time. I think Arizona allows it too, but I do't remember since it's not my problem any more.

My favorite was the guy who asked for all information related to zoning, permits, etc. on a particular development. It was well written so we knew what information to give, but we called to see if we could narrow it down. I mean every permit for every house in a subdivision usually isn't going to do anyone any good. He demanded all of it and he's the lawyer and he knows what he's doing and we can't hold that stuff back... Seriously, we were just trying to cut the fees and our workload. Did I mention the particular development had something like 4 3" binders filled with zoning info, multiple plats and amendments, something like 18,000 houses, community centers, fire stations, and the list went on. Needless to say it was a hefty bill just so someone could do a class action against the home builder about a stucco problem.
 

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
937
Points
20
I recently moved from a state where internal, intraagency emails could not be FOILed to one where everything is seemingly up for grabs, and it's got me spooked, to the point where I'd rather just have a call or meeting about Project X than leave us vulnerable.
 

Hink

OH....IO
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
14,914
Points
40
I recently moved from a state where internal, intraagency emails could not be FOILed to one where everything is seemingly up for grabs, and it's got me spooked, to the point where I'd rather just have a call or meeting about Project X than leave us vulnerable.
Do you work in the White House now? ;) I kid, I kid... well kinda.
 

kms

Cyburbian
Messages
5,902
Points
31
I recently moved from a state where internal, intraagency emails could not be FOILed to one where everything is seemingly up for grabs, and it's got me spooked, to the point where I'd rather just have a call or meeting about Project X than leave us vulnerable.
I’ll most always make a call, and take very few notes. I date the phone log books when they’re full so I know when I can destroy them.[/QUOTE]
 
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