Douglas looks to change controversial document fees

DOUGLAS — The Douglas City Council last week informally instructed its attorney, Mike Armstrong, to start crafting changes to its controversial public records policy, which currently mandates that the public and press be charged for printed or emailed copies of city documents.

It’s always good to review policies and procedures and look for efficiencies, Mayor Rene Kemper said Monday afternoon. The issue was not addressed during the council’s official meeting Monday evening, but had been expected to be discussed during its work session last Thursday.

The city currently charges a minimum $25 per hour research fee for public documents, even for those documents already readily available, based on a 2015 city resolution which had not been enforced until earlier this year. It also charges $1 per page for a fax or copy in black and white, or $1.25 per page for color, and $1 per page for emailed documents to go along with the $25 or higher research fee.

The $25 fee is charged regardless of the time it takes to find the document being requested, but if the city staff has to compile the information, the charge is $25 per hour.

In addition, the city requires anyone requesting a public document complete a form stating the reason for the request, the organization wanting it and more. Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman said that form alone violates the state’s open records law and its intent, which doesn’t allow the governmental entity to ask why the request is being made or for what purpose the information will be used.

Adelman also has repeatedly argued the fees charged by the city for public documents are exorbitant given the nature of most requests by the public and that the vast majority of the documents are already created and area easily accessible by staff, so the minimum “research fee” is unwarranted and simply a way to keep the public from requesting documents it has a right to see and has already paid for with its taxes.

The newspaper publisher, who was not at the council work session, said he was heartened to hear the council wants to revisit the policy and make changes that should be make it better for the public to access public documents.

Kemper said that at the June 24 work session, the city council discussed looking at how the state set up its public record fees, which is something the city will consider.

It is the “gold standard” the city will be looking at, she said.