A Miner Detail’s Eric Beasley won a Public Information Act dispute over unreasonable fees with the City of Brunswick.
In Maryland, the Public Information Act Compliance Board hears cases that involve more than $350 in charged fees.
The PIACB issued a ruling today ordering Brunswick to refund $195, or 30%, of incurred fees.
The ruling from the PIACB includes language beneficial for government transparency advocates:
There is no universal standard for how long a lawyer should take to read a single-page document.
The PIACB alludes to the need for a standard.
The requested documents are not long or expensive. There is more text in the email signatures than in the actual documents.
Putting the duplicative and clearly non-responsive documents aside, it is difficult to believe that the City Attorney would have spent two hours reviewing these twenty-seven short emails, five police reports, and nine pages of evidentiary and investigative records.
Inflating PIA Costs
Government agencies like to charge requestors exorbitant fees to avoid disclosure.
The PIACB also admonished the City of Brunswick for intentionally inflating the PIA costs:
The City should have used staff time charged at this significantly lower rate to remove any documents that were completely duplicative and/or clearly not responsive (e.g., because they clearly fell outside the requested timeframe) so that the City Attorney did not spend time reviewing these things at much greater expense.
However, in this particular case, which did not involve a voluminous amount of records, there is no reason that the City Attorney should have been asked to review multiple copies of the exact same emails and the exact same reports or records that were clearly not responsive.
The City of Brunswick also charged Mr. Beasley for legal review of emails about the PIA request:
The multi-page email dated August 14, 2020, from Captain Bryan Brown to police department employees with information about the PIA request and search instructions was produced in the response at least three times.
These emails were outside the scope of the original PIA request.
The public records implicate multiple individuals in criminal acts. Therefore, A Miner Detail will not be publishing the content now.
A Miner Detail has prevailed in two PIA disputes this year.
One dispute with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is pending in Circuit Court.