On Monday, the Associated Press ran a story detailing the efforts Ferguson government officials have taken to discourage media outlets from obtaining files from the city that are supposed to be legally available under public record laws. The AP stated that Ferguson billed AP $135 an hour for 16 hours of work to provide the news organization with copies of email accounts. This is roughly ten times as much as an entry-level city government employee’s hourly wage. Other media groups have also claimed that the town has demanded high fees from them to comply with requests through freedom of information laws.
This is obviously a tactic the community’s administration is taking in order to intimidate and deter the press, especially independent media outlets, from obtaining information relating to Michael Brown’s death and the police department’s handling of it and the protests that have occurred in its aftermath. The author of the article, Jack Gillum, pointed out that price-gouging is a way for government organizations to get around sunshine laws when it comes to releasing public records.
Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. Open records laws are designed to give the public access to government records at little or no cost, and have historically exposed waste, wrongdoing and corruption.
The article also compared a similar instance to what Ferguson is doing right now with the media. During the 2008 general election, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s office initially charged an Alaskan newspaper thousands of dollars to provide emails from Palin, who was then Governor of Alaska.
Other governments also have demanded spectacular fees. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for instance, news organizations asked for emails belonging to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee.
The Anchorage Press said officials at first wanted $6,500 in search fees, leading the newspaper to withdraw its request. Thousands of pages of those emails were ultimately provided to news organizations for about $725 in copying charges.
City, state or national governments are only going to charge high fees for ‘processing’ open records requests if they want to discourage news organizations from finding the truth. With Palin, she didn’t want the truth to come out on Troopergate or the Bridge to Nowhere, among other things. As for Ferguson, they want to hide their own incompetence regarding Brown’s death, potentially damaging emails and communications from Darren Wilson (Brown’s killer) and other police officers and the long history of racial disparity that the city has allowed to occur.
As the AP reported, those who work for the city have merely deflected questions regarding the high fees and lack of transparency to others, or flat out just refused to respond to media requests for comment. In the end, it seems very telling that Ferguson’s government is taking its cues from Palin. Like the so-called ‘Mama Grizzly,’ they have a lot to to hide and be embarrassed about.