Mackinac Center To Westland: Document-Request Fee Is Illegal, Undemocratic

Even though five bucks is a small amount, charging it to start a public records search is a big deal to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy -- big enough to warrant a lawsuit.

Capitol Confidential: The city of Westland is charging an illegal fee to people seeking public information, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Jarrett Skorup is a research associate at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The court challenge says a $5 charge for filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request can "discourage people from participating in the democratic process," Jarrett Skorup reports at the Midland center's blog, which this summer collected financial data on municipal  golf courses statewide. Westland told the conservative policy researchers that it requires a $5 fee before handing over any information.

Westland also said it would cost $1 per page for copying costs and $45.61 per hour for the person gathering the information. . . .

Mackinac Center attorney Patrick Wright said the fees Westland wanted to charge are illegal.

"Charging a $5 fee to simply start the process is just a roadblock the city has put up to try and discourage people from participating in the democratic process," Wright said. "If it can be $5, then why not $1,000?"

Wright also said that the fees for copying and processing are unreasonable, noting that a UPS store right across the street charges 10 cents per copy.

In contrast, Ann Arbor charges five cents for each copy in FOIA requests. 

Westland's city clerk is quoted as saying the fee was imposed after some past search results never were picked up

Skorup and Wright talk about the case in this nearly three-minute video report:

Read more:  Capitol Confidential

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