Sunshine Week Illuminates the Cost of Public Records

Mar 20, 2015

When The Gazette filed an open records request with the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the district quoted the cost of the information at $260,000.

That’s a pretty high starting point," says Erin Jordan, reporter for The Gazette and KCRG. "A lot of people seeing that would think, 'Well that number is designed to make the requester go away.'"

With negotiations, the paper ended up paying the district only $740 for most of the documents originally requested.

"That’s still a lot for a news organization, and a public person probably would not be able to pay that," she says.

The school district did not offer much explanation for the price disparity, but explained that extracting data can be time consuming for organizations, especially government entities with a smaller staff.

There's a chance the legislature might consider reexamining the code next year, as the director of the Iowa Public Information Board, Charlie Smithson, plans to approach lawmakers about the subject. For now, government agencies will still be able to determine their own fees for open records requests.

"Right now the [state] code is so general, it just says 'a reasonable fee,'" says Jordan.

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Also featured on today's program:

Clare Roth talks March Madness with Rick Brown, senior sports columnist at the Des Moines Register, discusses hemp-oil sales with Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register, learns about a comprehensive egg production study with Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, discovers the importance of school breakfast for lower-income students with David Frisvold, assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa, and talks about possible new beer legislation with Iowa Sen. Jeff Danielson (D).

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