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Survey finds wide variation in public records costs

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Survey finds wide variation in public records costs

  • A public records audit by the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition found copying costs ranging from 15 cents to $6 per page, and many agencies that required identification for access to public records.

Jan. 9, 2003 — In a survey released Jan.1 on access to public documents, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition found that implementation of that state’s freedom of information law varies widely.

The November 2002 study of police departments, school offices and municipalities found that the cost of reproduction of public documents ranged from 15 cents to $6 per page.

More than 100 volunteer auditors traveled to 310 offices throughout the state on Nov. 19 to request access to documents that are public under the Maine statute. The auditors were volunteers for the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition who requested information as members of the general public.

Several auditors were asked for the names of their employers, to provide identification or to provide reasons for their requests. The public records law does not require responses to any of those questions. The study also found that many of Maine’s police departments did not comply with the state’s Freedom of Access law. Of the police departments audited, 34 percent denied access to daily incident reports, which are public record in Maine. Of the departments that provided the reports, 47 percent required identification.

Of 157 visits made to municipal offices, the Maine FOI Coalition found that “only 18 percent of elected officials had the requested expense reports on file.” However, “even though there were very few available documents to view, auditors reported finding municipal officials the most cordial and most eager to help locate requested information.”

The Maine School Management Association learned of the audit in advance of Nov. 19 and alerted superintendents asking them to comply with requests to view contracts.

“Even so, of the 79 visits to school superintendents’ offices, only 67 percent of clerks and superintendents permitted auditors to view copies of superintendents’ contracts,” according to the survey report.

The Maine FOI Coalition also mailed written requests for meeting minutes to all 489 villages, towns and cities in the state. Most towns — 78 percent — returned the documents by the date requested.

In view of the survey results, the coalition recommended that “the Maine Municipal Association, Maine School Management Association and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association must make greater efforts to provide training and ensure that members abide by Maine’s Freedom of Access law.”

The coalition found that most often when records were denied, it was “usually because the office clerk or desk sergeant doesn’t understand the law.” It said it prepared the report, in part, to educate both officials and the public as to how Maine’s access laws are supposed to work.

GS

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