Editorial/Op

The $273.25 CD: The Public Records Process in Central

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CENTRAL FIRST BLUE b    Like most of you, I have a collection of CDs.  Most of them are albums of my favorite music, but my most valuable CD is one I recently bought from the City of Central… for $273.25.
    I have learned the hard way about the city’s responsibilities under Louisiana’s Public Records law. I always expected the city to already know the law, but now I don’t believe they do.
    A quick explanation of the process: A citizen fills out a form asking to view one or more public records.  The city then produces the record and allows the citizen to look at it.  If the citizen wants a copy, the city may charge for the cost to copy that record and hand it to the citizen.
    In my case, I asked to view the communications between the City of Central and the developer of the Shoe Creek TND. When I arrived to view the records, there was a CD, and on the CD were several hundred emails with attachments. In total, there were 1,073 page images on the CD.
    Reviewing that much data would take hours, so I asked to pay for a copy of the CD.  I had previously paid five dollars each for copies of CDs of the audio of public meetings, but the city wanted $273.25 for this CD.  They explained that copy of the CD itself was only five dollars, but that I was being charged 25 cents per page for the 1,073 pages of documents ON the CD, bringing the total to $273.25.
    I explained that $5 for the CD was fair, but I did not think they were allowed to charge for what was ON the CD.  They said those were the rules and that if I wanted the CD I had to pay, so I paid $273.25 for the CD.  I put it with the four other CDs Public Records for which I paid Central $160, and I now own the 5-CD “Boxed Set” for only $433.25.
    Louisiana’s Public Records law at LA R.S. 44:32 states: “The custodian may establish and collect reasonable fees for making copies of public records.” Not believing that $273.25 is a reasonable charge for a CD, I read how the court interprets “reasonable fees”.
    In 1994, Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal stated: “The statute clearly limits the fee which a custodian may collect for providing copies of public records to a reasonable fee for making the copies. This fee does not include the original cost of generation of the information or the actual value of the information. It does include, at a minimum, the actual costs for making the copies.”
    I’m not an attorney, but a plain reading of the law and the court’s interpretation leads me to believe that $5 is a “reasonable fee” to copy a CD, but $273.25 is just a tad high.
    Frankly, this whole Public Records fiasco started as an effort to responsibly report, in the newspaper, the actions of Central’s government.  In the process I have found some serious barriers to accessing public records in Central.  I don’t want the next citizen or the next reporter to encounter these same obstacles.
    I hope that the issues I am raising will cause Central’s elected officials to take a hard look at their policies and rules, spend some time reading Louisiana’s Public Records Law, and make some changes.  That would be Good News for a Great City.

3 Comments

  1. Teddie Hinton

    January 28, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    I appreciate your efforts to ensure transparency of Central’s administrative actions. Thanks, Dave.

  2. Faith

    February 1, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I work with medical records. I frequently see charges such as $1.00 per page for medical records, which are electronic and usually faxed or transmitted electronically. I am not surprised you were charged $0.25 per page for public records, even if the disk only cost $5.00.

  3. Dave

    February 1, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I understand, but medical records are not “Public Records” and there is therefore no underlying policy of governmental openness to be considered and protected. Medical record copy costs have their own treatment under law LA R.S. at 40:1165.1.

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