Cedar Rapids, Iowa
May 26, 2013
How much did taxpayers pay to rebuild, purchase and demolish those buildings on 1st Avenue and 1st Street SW in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? Too much! But, the only way that the people who paid for it can find out about it is by obtaining public information.
How many people think that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) means free information? You would think that freedom of information would mean free information but it doesn’t; it only means you’re free to ask for the information and pay for said information.
That’s right, if you want any real information you will have to pay for it!
The equivalency of the Federal’s FOIA is the State of Iowa and City of Cedar Rapids’ “Open Records” law and ordinance, respectively.
But, just how “open” are these records?
Lisa Kuzela was the Vice Chair of the Local Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee (L.O.S.T.) when she asked for pertinent public information regarding where some of the funds from the L.O.S.T. account had been appropriated.
Kuzela asked for a list of the homes purchased with the L.O.S.T. funds and was told that it would “cost her $110 for six hours of time to compile the data”.
They then used the excuse that it was a “privacy issue,” even though the same requested information for properties purchased with FEMA and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds had already been publicly listed. So, why not make available those purchased with L.O.S.T? There was never any justification for their excuses.
Don’t take my word for it go check it out yourself!
Click here for information about The City of Cedar Rapids Greenway Area Address List.
Click here for information about The City of Cedar Rapids Construction Area Address List.
Assistant City Manager, Sandi Fowler, discusses Fees for Public Information
Kuzela is often charged for information requests from the City. On top of the research hourly fees, she is charged for scans – yes, scans! She is charged twenty-five cents per page to scan even though there is no ink or paper!
This clearly violates Iowa’s Open Records Law, State Code 22.3(2): “The fee for the copying service as determined by the lawful custodian shall not exceed the actual cost of providing the service. Actual costs shall include only those expenses directly attributable to supervising the examination of and making and providing copies of public records. ”
Kuzela states “when I pointed this out to the City, they said that the reason they have to charge the same for a scan as a hard copy is that the machine counts the scan the same as a copy. I told them I’ve never heard of such a thing and no one should have to pay for something when there’s no expense for it. However, I’ve gone along with this absurdity and been paying $0.25 per scanned page so I could get the information.”
Kuzela goes on to say that within the past week, “they suddenly claim that the documents are off-site, so if I want the information, I have to pay them the time to go to another location to retrieve the documents at $20 per hour. This is over and above their hourly fee for the time it takes to scan (even though we have automatic feeders, now). This, too, is in addition to $0.25 per page to scan.”
What is wrong with the efficiency of our city if this information isn’t readily available – especially in the day of digital? Who are these people working for if they can charge taxpayers for public information – especially at a higher cost simply because they haven’t been well-organized in storing it?!
Aren’t we already paying them to do their job, and isn’t this part of their job? This all just sounds absurd to me!
But, it even gets worse!
Kuzela explains that “even though they’re emailing me the information (and therefore no supervising of staff is necessary while I review the information), they are now also saying that I have to pay a fee for ‘supervising the examination.’ So, does that mean I have to pay for an employee to supervise another? They haven’t responded to this question.”
I’m simply not buying that in this day and age when everything is digital that they don’t have this information scanned already and easily accessible! It’s obvious that the goal here is not to help the taxpayers get information, so they can oversee how their money’s being spent, but to prevent it. The City continually comes up with different excuses to make it as costly as possible in order to deter Kuzela from obtaining public information.
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