Piedmont looking to charge for FOIA requests
PIEDMONT - A series of requests which Piedmont city officials are calling “unreasonable” prompted the council this week to begin the process of instituting a fee for the time it takes to provide documents requested by the public.
According to mayor Paula Boggs, just one of the recent requests by a resident of the town had involved copies of the town’s bank account information, and it had amounted to almost 500 pages.
“We gave him 499 pages of bank statements and he was mad with took the account number off,” she said, adding that while the statement is public information, the account number is not.
There have been other requests made by the resident under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which have taken up much of the town clerk’s time to research.
“It’s time we take a stand,” council member Greg Harvey said. “I don’t have any trouble giving the people of Piedmont what they want, but when (the clerk) can’t get anything else done, it’s ridiculous.”
Council member Terry LaRue agreed, saying “the City of Piedmont only has one office employee.”
“We can’t function this way,” Boggs said of the amount of time it takes the clerk to research the requested information.
LaRue also said he had researched whether or not the city could charge for the clerk’s time after being told by the resident that a government could only legally charge for copies of the information requested. According to LaRue, the West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that an hourly fee for researching FOIA requests is permisable as long as it’s reasonable.
Piedmont is therefore proposing to charge $15 if it takes 15 minutes to research a FOIA request, $30 if it takes 30 minutes, $45 for 45 minutes, and $60 if it takes an hour to produce the information requested.
“And we can still charge that even if no records are found,” Harvey said.
Harvey also noted, however, that the ordinance instituting the charges cannot be made retroactive, so any FOIA requests currently in the hands of the town employee will not be subject to the charges.
He added that the ordinance is not meant to discourage anyone from seeking information from the city, but the officials felt the implementation of a charge was needed “based on one person being unreasonable.”
Harvey made the motion to accept the first reading of the ordinance, and Rhonda Niland seconded it. The motion carried 5-0.
The second reading will be held at the next council meeting.