Recently I was recruited to participate in the Sunshine Blogger Project. Its purpose is to “find out whether America’s governors properly archive the e-mail that comes into and goes out of their offices, and are able to provide copies of those e-mails when members of the public request them.”
I believe that open records and meetings are important, both to news media and citizens, so I agreed to take part in the project.
On February 7, 2008 I mailed (by postal mail) my request for the records of interest, which are emails sent and received by the office of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for a recent four-day period. We asked that the emails be delivered electronically, which seems natural given that computerization is the essence of email.
On February 15 I received a letter from JaLynn Copp, the Assistant Chief Counsel to the Governor, stating that the office is “in the process of reviewing your request and generating a response.”
As of February 25 I hadn’t received that response, so I called to inquire. I left a message requesting my call to be returned. Over the next few days I made several calls and left messages, but no one returned my call. Finally I was able to reach the Assistant Chief Counsel, who then briefly described the details spelled out in a letter that I received on February 28.
The Governor’s office has approximately 25 full-time employees, the letter explained. It will take a minimum of two hours for each employee to conduct a review of each employee’s computer to see if any of the requested emails fall under one of the many exemptions to the Kansas Open Records Act. This adds up to $1,350. The office requests payment before any work will be done.
The letter I received contained this paragraph:
I will look into the possibility of providing our response in electronic form as you have requested. This may be an additional charge; I can let you know what that is if it is possible. If it is not possible, then we would provide the information in hard copy and this would cost .25 per page. Of course, we will not know the up front costs of how many pages this would be until we do the searches. This would be assessed after we have done the searches and would need to be paid before we turned over the documents to you.
I found this paragraph remarkable. I am not able to fully understand what this means, and I have written to ask for clarification. Part of what I wrote is this:
I have a question or two. Will the total cost be the estimated $1,350 for reviewing plus $.25 per printed page that is supplied to me? Will your office be performing the review reading from printed pages or from reading the emails on a computer in their original electronic form?
I ask because it seems to me that if the review is going to be conducted by reading the emails on a computer, then printing costs could be avoided. Alternatively, if the review will be performed by reading printed pages of paper, then perhaps the $.25 per printed page charge could be waived, as the material would have been already printed.
I’ll update this article when I receive an answer. It may take some time, as the Assistant Chief Counsel did not share an email address with me.
Recommended sites: State Sunshine and Open Records, WikiFOIA, the wiki for helping people understand and use the Freedom of Information Act at the state and local level, Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government.