By Anne Lowe
The City of Lindsay will be happy to comply with resident Steven Mecum’s Public Records Act request for copies of more than 35,000 pages—for more than $8,800, with $6,000 as an advance deposit.
Mecum told the Porterville Recorder that the city is charging him 25 cents for each page of a 35,271-page Public Records Act request. In addition, the city requires a $6,000 deposit before it will provide any documentation.
The Recorder reports:
The requests range from documents listing all home loans made by the City where it provided 100 percent financing of home purchases, to copies of current City contracts for sewer, garbage disposal and water purchase services, to credit card account statements for public employees.
“I have the right to look at those documents and we’d like to get to the bottom of those issues,” he said.
The principal issue, Mecum says, is the appropriation of the public’s money.
“It sounds like they’re also charging for the labor and they’re only supposed to charge for duplication. For the sake of transparency, I think if you’re running things right you should make these documents available,” Mecum said.
“In the City of Bell, you can get more today than I can get in Lindsay. I understand some of these records they have to dig up and if they put it all online, like Bell did, some [people] would just not be interested. There’s a little bit of transparency in that town; in my town they’re acting like I’m passing out the Communist Manifesto.”
According to Lindsay’s Deputy City Clerk Carmela Wilson, Mecum’s requests amount to a total of 35,271 pages, at 25 cents per copy, and a total estimated cost of $8,871.75, not including charges for search, review or deletion. For Mecum to obtain the copies, Wilson said, the City requires a $6,000 deposit.
“Twenty-five cents is probably too much,” Tom Newton, general counsel with California Newspapers Publisher’s Association, said. “They can charge the direct cost of duplication, which is what they should be charging; how they’d get to a quarter a page to run their copy machine, that’s a little excessive.”
According to Newton, under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), the public is endowed with two rights: to inspect records, and to obtain a copy of records. Copy costs, he said, are limited to statutory fees or the direct cost of duplication, usually 10 to 25 cents per page.
“The City of Lindsay can only charge the direct cost of duplication, costs to make a copy, and I don’t think that’s a quarter a page. It sounds to me like they’re trying to sandbag him,” Newton said.
In a cost comparison of direct duplication costs, Mecum found that the City of Bell charges 10 cents, Porterville 15 cents, Visalia Staples and FedEx, 10 cents and Office Max in Porterville, 10 cents.
As for the “excessive” charges, Mecum says he will contest them, but for now will settle for a few “key documents.”
A comment appended to this story in the Recorder, under the handle "fxrguy2," says, "Mr mecum was told in advance what this would cost... he was offered a room to view these documents without charge, and could have copies of anything he found relevant... he refused..."