According to an Associated Press report, Ferguson, Mo., officials are apparently using exorbitant fees to discourage news organizations from requesting documents through the state's freedom-of-information Sunshine Law.
In theory, the law, like the federal Freedom of Information Act, allows reporters and other citizens to access things like police reports, memoranda, and intra-government emails, which would otherwise remain behind closed doors. If such information is deemed relevant to public interest—like, say, if it pertains to the summer's biggest national news story—the state permits that it be given away for free. That's evidently not happening in Ferguson:
In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day's work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk's office, and it didn't include costs to review the emails or release them. The AP has not paid for the search.
In another particularly egregious instance, the city asked for "nearly $2,000" to pay a consulting firm for help with finding requested emails on its own servers. BuzzFeed and the Washington Post told the AP they also encountered higher-than-expected fees.
As freedom-of-information activist Rick Blum notes in the AP report, gouging on fees "is a popular tactic" for getting nagging reporters to give up and go away. It's almost like Ferguson wants to keep this stuff a secret.
[Image via AP}