Representative David Stevens Wants to Pay Bureaucrats to Stall Public Records Requests

Categories: I'm Only a Bill

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Image: Wikipedia
Arizona bureaucrats could earn cash by stalling requests for public records under an amended bill sponsored by a Republican state lawmaker.

More ominously, the proposal by Representative David Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista, has the potential to destroy Arizona's stellar open-records law by making the cost of obtaining records too high for the news media and public.

The bill would allow Arizona government agencies to charge fees for public records "that includes reimbursement for the cost of labor in furnishing the copies, printouts or photographs, calculated in hourly wages."

HB 2419 was formerly a technical correction on a tax law before the strike-all amendment. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Thursday at the state House of Representatives' Committee on Technology and Infrastructure.

Stevens aims to make a fundamental change to a decades-old law that specifically prohibits agencies from doing what he believes they should do. The ability to inspect records for free is a provision upheld as recently as December by state Attorney General Tom Horne.

"The purpose of Arizona's public records law is to allow members of the public open access to inspect public records during regular office hours," Horne wrote in the December 2nd opinion. "This purpose would be hindered by imposing fees..."

(Commercial public-records users -- who, for example, want to re-sell bulk government records -- still have to pay various fees. Citizens and news-gathering organizations are considered "non-commercial" users under Arizona law.)

Horne's opinion, based on a state Court of Appeals ruling, further states that the public can make their own copies of records with cameras or electronic scanning devices, thwarting (in theory) government agencies that prefer to charge stiff fees.

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Representative David Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista
It seems that someone in state government didn't like Horne's opinion. We'd tell you why Stevens is doing this and who's behind his efforts, but he didn't return the message we left Wednesday morning.

Stevens' bill suggests no limits or exceptions on the alleged labor to be done, or the hourly wages to be charged. If this goes through, expect to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in so-called "labor" costs from bureaucrats and their high-priced lawyers.

The bill does say that agencies may not charge for the first four hours of "labor." But since it places no oversight or restrictions on how much labor can be done on any records request, the four-hour grace period is a moot point. For smaller government agencies, this could become a prime income source.

Once, for example, Police Chief Steven Campbell of El Mirage wanted to charge us more than $200 for a single CD that had a few digital copies of police reports on it. (These were some of the reports detailing how the El Mirage police department and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office had dropped the ball on investigations of sex crimes.)

Citizens requesting requesting police reports from El Mirage are still being swindled. As El Mirage PD's online records form states, the agency charges up to $15 per report and $20 to make a copy of a photograph.

We called the police department and asked them if we could simply take pictures of public records instead of paying a fee. "Maria," one of the office workers at the police department, told us, "You won't be getting anything for free."

Town officials won't allow anyone to come in and take pictures of police reports, "and we never will," she added. She further explained that even when no copies are obtained, the town can still charge for the time it takes to redact sensitive information from reports.

Which is how they end up charging $200 or more for a CD.

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Stevens' bill would allow every government agency to do the same thing.

"It doesn't make any sense," says Paula Casey, executive director of the Arizona Newspaper Association. "Who's to say they don't just milk the clock?"

Casey predicts that if Stevens' bill is successful, "people with deep pockets will still be able to pay for records. But it'll keep citizens from even starting to look for something."

When it comes to public officials like Horne, of course, looking for something means finding something.

After New Times reporter Stephen Lemons filed a records request in 2010 for information about the suspicious hiring of Horne's rumored girlfriend, Carmen Chenal, Horne launched an investigation into who had leaked the tip. That probe turned into a debacle when investigator Meg Hinchey discovered possible evidence that Horne had engaged in campaign-finance fraud, resulting in hearings that began earlier this month. One of Hinchey's allegations is that Horne wanted certain public records destroyed illegally.

Making government records prohibitively expensive would clearly benefit some Arizonans more than others.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.


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21 comments
whataretheythinking
whataretheythinking

Not surprising that the example comes from El Mirage and their records fees.  They have been increasing the fees of everything the last few years since this new management crew got in and people are too stupid to stop them.  I am waiting until they let the city get annexed by Surprise.  Why else would they be spending millions on new stuff that they can not obviously afford due to things like 80% rise in water fees over a 10 year period?  Have to make it attractive for a takeover.  Take for example when they decided to change where they were going to put the fire department.  They put it well north of where it was planned and their excuse was it takes too long for them to respond to the residents.  Then the next year they put the new police department where the fire department was supposed to go.  Hey idiots, you get thousands more calls for police then fire so you put all our citizens at more risk putting the police department so far away but letting the fire fighters move closer.  Not too bright.

Jerry Young
Jerry Young

Have you noticed how public servants have become our government officials? Are you seeing that political issues of yesterday has become our reality today? Have you noticed that the Constitution created to serve the People has morphed into a government machine that we now serve? Think civic responsibility! If you're not already proactive, the time is now to become reactive. How? Not with threats of taking up arms! After posting your opinion on Facebook, take a moment to also email your elected representatives on issues you oppose or support. We may not agree, but together we will be heard!

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Seems like this twit should actually take Horne's opinion with a grain of salt.

Then again, when have the imbeciles at the State Capitol ever done their jobs?

DNichols
DNichols

Out of Control Government:

Our Government is becoming very professional at corruption, and "double dipping"

Years ago It used to be that when you got a speeding ticket you could choose either to pay the fine, or to go to a drivers safety class which cost about thirty dollars.

Either pay the traffic fine, or the class fee, not both!

The last traffic class  I went to about fifteen years ago the fee for the class was about one hundred and forty dollars, however at the end of the class which was put on by a private company the instructor said: "If anyone wants to take this same class with out a ticket to lower auto insurance rates that the exact same class would only cost thirty dollars"?!

Now there seems to be  a dirty fraudulent  deal between the private class, and our Government to tag "We the People" twice then secretly divide the spoils?!

Why don't our wonderful Politicians investigate this "Treading on We the People"?!

How many Millions of dollar have been fraudulently Bilked from "We the People"

The class I was in had sixty people.

At one hundred dollars each being overcharged the Government Scored Six thousand illgotton/Dirty dollars for one class!

Ironically the Government defruading people in these classes is a worse crime than the speeding ticket that caused them to be in the class in the first place!

To: Liberty.

robert_graham
robert_graham

The Phoenix New Times is not to everything it wants.

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

Let us not forget that these same GOP clowns just approved $100k for a lawyer to help them hide public records in the SB1070 case....

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

OK -- REDUCE their salaries / budgets by whatever "fees" these lowlife lazy un-American Repugs decide to charge The Pubic they are supposed to serve.



teknik
teknik

yup! a fine example of small government.  so small it's out of control!

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

Why am I not surprised this is a Republicans idea???....

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Public Servants who get paid taxpayer funded salaries have ALREADY BEEN PAID to do their job.


Charging the public fees is double-dipping.


Imagine if Cops and Fireman charged $$ to show up at the scene of crimes / fires?


WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

If this clown earns $1 from being employed by the taxpayers, he's greatly over paid.


In really, he's paid about 24,000 times what he's worth!  Why does the GOP elect such idiots in this state?

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@WhoKnows  

Our election system ensures that any idiot Republican can be elected as long as he's more popular in his district than the most popular Democrat.  The two political parties have done tremendous harm to our system of government.


DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@valleynative <== whines the shill who spends most of his time apologizing for Repuglycan scumbaggery.



DNichols
DNichols

@Donky

Isn't it ironic that Valley is arguing with a DONKYHOTAY, then calling you stupid?!

Valley needs to go to Mexico where at a Donkyhotay show he could really wrestle with a Donky's Hotay.

"Shocking"

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay @valleynative 

Lately, I seem to be spending most of my time pointing out that you've said something remarkably stupid.  I think we've probably reached the point where we can all just assume that I'm calling you a moron every time you post anything, and I'll stop wasting my time with you.

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