Mackinac Center forces Westland FOI fee restructure

Mackinac Center News Release:

MIDLAND — The city of Westland has agreed to restructure the fees it charges for public documents to bring them in line with the state’s Freedom of Information Act in response to a lawsuit filed last fall by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

In line with all of the demands the MCLF made when it filed suit, the city in its settlement agreed to eliminate a $5 gatekeeping fee, decrease the amount it charges per page for copies from $1 to 10 cents and to charge hourly fees for the work equal to the lowest hourly wage of the person capable to doing the work minus the cost of fringe benefits.

The city had been charging an hourly fee of $45.61 to do the work, which equates to an annual compensation rate of $94,868.

State law says “a public body may not charge more than the hourly wage of the lowest pad public body employee capable of retrieving the information necessary to comply with a request under this act.” The city also agreed to pay attorney fees for the MCLF.

“We’re glad to see that the city has agreed to change its policies to conform to state law,” said Patrick J. Wright, MCLF director. “They were charging fees that were in direct opposition to the law and were designed to discourage people from exercising their rights to obtain public documents.”

Wright said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the $5 gatekeeping fee was intended as a roadblock.

“If $5 is OK, then why not $1,000?” he noted. “And while they were charging $1 a page for copies, we found a UPS store literally right across the street from city hall that only charged 10 cents per page. There’s no reason why the government should charge 10 times as much as the private sector.”

The Center’s suit came about after Michigan Capitol Confidential filed a FOIA request with the city seeking information about the city’s municipal golf course.

“The point to remember here is that laws like FOIA are in place to encourage public participation in the democratic process,” Wright said. “We hope this prompts other municipalities to review their practices and make necessary changes to that end.”

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