Gov. Chet Culver’s office has begun to encourage state agencies to charge for the cost of having government lawyers review documents requested under Iowa’s open-records law.
The advice runs contrary to past practices of numerous city and state agencies, which sometimes charge citizens or media to retrieve and copy records and e-mails but have not charged for having lawyers review records that are presumed public under law.
At stake is whether the government or its citizens should bear the cost of determining whether a record should be kept confidential.
Open records experts say the new charges – which have been estimated at $25 and $35 an hour – are largely untested in Iowa courts and uncommon in other states across the country.
If the advice by Culver’s legal counsel to the state agencies is ultimately found to be legal, it could have a chilling effect on those attempting to watchdog government and keep it open, said Kathleen Richardson, executive director of the state’s Freedom of Information Council.
So let me get this straight, just a couple weeks after the closure clowns in the Iowa House killed a bill that would have beefed up enforcement of open meetings and records laws, the governor wants to start charging Iowans potentially hundreds of dollars to get their hands on PUBLIC records.
Of course, the Culveristas are ticked because the DMR is asking for bushels of e-mail records, but this goes way beyond some tiff they’re having with one news organization. This could open the door for fake fees to be charged all over Iowa by officials trying to scare off scrutiny.
And to those who think this is all about the pesky media, if big fees are charged, only pesky media organizations with deep pockets will be able to afford public records. Ordinary people will be out of luck, unless they’re willing to pony up. This is an incredibly bad idea.
Maybe Culver was inspired by his big pay raise, approved by lawmakers in the middle of the night. Lack of public scrutiny can be very profitable.