Bill to Kill Public-Records Access with High Fees Advances in State Legislature

Categories: I'm Only a Bill

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hobvias sudoneighm via flickr
A bill that would all but destroy the public's ability to receive public records critical of the government has been approved by a State House committee.

The bill, HB 2419, sponsored by Representative David Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista, would allow government agencies to charge $20 an hour for their "labor" in locating and producing any records for public inspection.

State Attorney General Tom Horne supports the bill, despite Horne's ruling in December that such a system would hinder the public's access to government records.

See also:
-Representative Stevens Wants to Pay Bureaucrats to Stall Public Records Requests
-Tom Horne Pimps Bill Restricting Access to Public Records

The proposal would give the requester the first eight hours of labor for free, encouraging bureaucrats to use incompetent methods and delaying tactics in order to make more money.

Commercial uses of public records, like obtaining them from resale, already are subject to fees and aren't affected by this bill. HB 2419 deals with what have been deemed non-commercial requests under the law -- those that are made by regular people and the news media who want to find out what their government is doing.

At a stakeholder's meeting with Stevens on Tuesday, news-media attorney David Bodney characterized the proposal as a radical change to a century-old public-records law that happens to be one of the best in the country.

But supporters like the League of Arizona Towns and Cities and Yuma City Attorney Steven Moore argue that something needs to be done to fight crackpots who are filing too many records requests that tie up city staff.

Representative Stevens agreed this was the reason behind the bill. A Yuma resident who hits his city with dozens of records requests each year for questionable reasons was labeled at the meeting as the "poster child" of burdensome records requests.

Yet as Bodney pointed out, changes to the law to solve that "problem" aren't needed.

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By Ray Stern
Representatives David Stevens, sponsor of the anti-public-records bill, and John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills.
A 2009 opinion by the state Supreme Court says, "Public records requests that are unduly burdensome or harassing can be addressed under existing law, which recognizes that disclosure may be refused based on concerns of privacy, confidentiality, or the best interests of the state."

On Wednesday evening, the bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee on a 7-2 vote.

The heavy requester in Yuma, as New Times later learned, is Jack Kretzer, 78, a disabled, crotchety former engineer who lives on Social Security. He became involved in politics after moving to Yuma in 1998 and has run for various offices, including a campaign for state Senate as a libertarian in 2008.

A self-described "community ombudsman," Kretzer has been a cholla-barb in the side of the city of Yuma officials for a long time. A 2006 article says he filed 715 records requests in six years. As of this year, he's filed about 100 petitions with the city for things like abolishing the property tax, all of which failed.

A city administrator told a newspaper at the time that Kretzer had "succeeded in wasting a vast amount of employee hours and taxpayer resources" -- a comment that drew the ire of a person who supported Kretzer's activities, at least in spirit.

Kretzer has kept up the pace in recent years, asking city staff once or twice a week to give him records like minutes from city council meetings, staff e-mails, etc. On Wednesday, he denied burdening city staff members or harassing them. He says he doesn't always conduct a free inspection of records, as allowed currently under the law, and pays "hundreds of dollars" each year for copies of various records. (City officials tell New Times he's paid about $527 for copies in the past two years.)

"This is an ongoing battle" with the city, Kretzer complained, referring to Yuma City Hall repeatedly as the "Taj Mahal." "They don't bother to follow the existing law or city charter."

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14 comments
DevilsAdvocate
DevilsAdvocate

Meant to add my 2 cents worth when I first read this - ah better late than never I guess.  Shame on New  Times for this article!!  It sure seems the writer is in league with city of Yuma in doing a hatchet job on a citizen. Both sides of the story are not represented here.  Too bad that government entities can hire 'crackpots' whose goal is to restrict and deny access/information to the public.  There are also little tricks utilized that result in # of requests being increased - if requester doesn't ask for something exactly as the city refers to it - response is 'doesn't exist.' They count 'doesn't exist' when tallying up their count.  Detail is so limited that one often has to proceed step by step to finally get to info wanted.  As far as whether info/records obtained are, or are not 'published' there is no requirement that records requested must be published by the requester once received.

And what, no comment that a city attorney openly referred to a constituent, taxpayer as a crackpot?  Whether or not one is sympathetic to Mr. Kretzer and his situation, it's probably a safe bet that he's being used to allow the city to do away with providing records under FOI. 

It may be of interest that the city HAS pursued legal action against Mr. Kretzer (and I don't believe this is the first time.  While I haven't verified it, I've heard stories that he was once fined - maybe $2,000???-- by a superior court judge.....

In closing I'd really expect New Times to  be supportive  of FOI, the media's right, and the public's right -    and to be against fees and charges that will clearly prohibit access and information from being obtained.

timdlittle
timdlittle

And the douche bags you would expect to back a bill like this are there. Like a bad re make of the usual suspects.

Cozz
Cozz topcommenter

Anything to make it cost more and tougher to prove corruption is all this is about.

Dylan Smith
Dylan Smith

Quite often, copying fees for public records already run into hundreds of dollars - if not more. This bill would allow officials to run up the clock, and the tab, into the thousands. It's an incentive to make records they don't want to release more expensive to obtain.

Pima County Democratic Party
Pima County Democratic Party

Agreed... They're called public records for a reason: they belong to us. We shouldn't have to pay hundreds of dollars to see them.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

These PUBLIC SERVANTS are already paid to SERVE the PUBLIC via their salaries paid by TAX $$$.


Charging the Public again for accessing the work performed by those Sucking on the Public Teat is absurd.



valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay  

It's not really that simple.  It's perfectly reasonable to have to pay for many services provided by government employees.  For example, you pay to get a new copy of your Driver License if you need a replacement.

The problem here is that it allows the government to charge arbitrary fees for public documents, so that, depending on whether or not they want you to see the records, they can make them ridiculously expensive.

 

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Valley, I don't mind paying a reasonable fee for public-records.

But this proposal makes government transparency difficult, expensive and burdensome on the tax paying public. A lot of people don't have the kind of money for fees this bill would propose.

Plus existing law allows for a notice of claim to be filed for denying access to public records (see Arizona Revised Statute 39-121.01)

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@valleynative "For example, you pay to get a new copy of your Driver License if you need a replacement."


And do they charge $200 / hour for the DMV employees time to create and deliver that replacement license?


Nope. The fee is neither arbitrary nor based upon the salary of the employee charged with supplying that license -- a license they are required to provide by law.


The law requires them to provide licenses to drivers -- as the law requires open records to be provided to citizens -- and the costs to provide those legally mandated services are derived from taxes via the operating budgets of those government departments, and not cost PLUS fees charged to the citizens requesting those legally mandated services.


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay @valleynative 

I'm sure that a lot of things that you don't understand seem like "silly shit" to you.  The world must be pretty confusing to you.


DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@valleynative


Well, you do have a habit of arguing in favor of some silly shit.


What next? Elected Politicians charging constituents who want to speak to them for their time ??


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay  

Yes, exactly.  But your initial argument that we shouldn't have to pay beyond the salary they earn is incorrect.

Did you assume that I was arguing in favor of this silly bill, just because I was pointing out that you were mistaken?

 

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