Question Things

via strategicleaders.wordpress.com

via strategicleaders.wordpress.com

The past “Story of the Week” was a good one and I’m glad I asked my editors what was going on.

I was especially vague because I wanted to get into more detail in a different post. I was torn on if that was a good idea, but I’m going to live with it. Bear with me if that bothered you.

On Wednesday, I checked one of my town’s web site and found the newly adopted FOI policy and procedures, including a fee schedule. I printed out a few copies, to both show my editors and make sure I had a couple for myself for future use.

After a quick look, I noticed the municipal leaders were going to charge staff time for each FOI request. I immediately approached my editors, who, in short, bugged out. They wanted an explanation ASAP and confirmation from the CT FOI commission.

The problem is that FOI requests cannot be charged for staff time unless, under Sec. 1-212.  (Formerly Sec. 1-15).  Copies and scanning of public records.  Fees,

“(1)  An amount equal to the hourly salary attributed to all agency employees engaged in providing the requested computer-stored public record, including their time performing the formatting or programming functions necessary to provide the copy as requested, but not including search or retrieval costs except as provided in subdivision (4) of this subsection;”

I got on the phone and figured out what had happened. (While I was doing that I was giving updates to my editors who were listening to me talk on the phone and waiting for me to tell them what was going on. They were great. They gave me some questions to ask and helped me mold my story before I even knew what I was really going to write about. And they gave me the confidence/push I needed to get to the bottom of what was going on. I owe them a lot for this story. It wouldn’t’ have been the story it came out to be without them.)

Basically, it was a miscommunication between an official at the FOI commission in Hartford and the leaders in town hall. It took me almost two hours to get to the bottom of it.

It took a couple of serious phone calls to the municipal leaders to find out why they wanted to charge for staff time. The town hall had been getting frivolous requests, with those making the requests not picking them up. That was costing the town money and the leaders felt that they should make up the costs by charging for staff time.

The leaders got the okay from the FOI official and proceeded without a second thought. But, the official misread/misunderstood/missed their total inquiry into their new policy.

The chief municipal leader decided to rescind the approved policy and speak to the FOI commission.
I will be updating the story as soon as I hear/see something new. It’s not something that’ll win me any Pulitzers, but it’s definitely interesting to write about. It helps me learn about the entire FOI law and it keeps me on my toes.

The story would have been nothing if it weren’t for me asking a simple question. It turned out to be a front page, top of the fold piece the day after I “solved” the problem.

I’ll be sure to do an updated post as soon as I write the follow-up.

Jonathan

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