University system reduces the cost for open records

By David Schick

 

The Collegian and the University System of Georgia have reached a compromise in regards to the excessive charges for open records, but awaits a resolution with GPC.

On Oct. 24, Burns Newsome, USG vice chancellor for legal affairs, responded to the Collegian’s lawyer, Daniel Levitas, with an offer to lower the cost to fulfill its July 18, Open Records Act request to $291 – a 90% reduction from the original estimate.

Initially, the USG gave the Collegian an estimated cost of $2,963 to fulfill the request. The cost was further reduced to $1,882 following an Aug. 23 letter from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, on behalf of the Collegian.

LoMonte wrote that several of the itemized charges were “excessive” and asked for a reassessment of the “uncharacteristically high” cost.

The reduced cost of $1,882 included a $1,073 charge for two Information Technology administrators to extract the records at eight hours each.

Based upon the USG’s technical specifications, the Collegian obtained the formal opinion of a computer expert in the form of a sworn affidavit, which stated that it would reasonably take “no more than one hour” worth of effort to extract the data.

The Collegian was then referred by the SPLC to Levitas to assist in further reduction of the cost.

In an Oct. 10 letter to the USG, Levitas wrote that the fees seemed “arbitrary, capricious, and deliberately designed to obstruct access to public information of obvious critical concern.” Levitas attached the computer expert’s sworn affidavit.

“In light of the documentation attached and the evidence and arguments they contain, I implore you to reconsider the … demand made for $1,882.98 in order to respond to the Collegian’s July 18, 2012 ORA request.”

The USG’s response to the letter came two weeks later on Oct. 24.

“The total cost associated with producing the documents … is $297.72, which comprised of ten and one-half hours time for two of the Board’s information technology specialists,” wrote Newsome.

Additionally, the Collegian had put in a separate, less extensive, Open Records Act request on July 16 to GPC and was quoted an estimated $927 to fulfill the request.

“In light of the flexibility demonstrated by the University System in this separate matter, I am hopeful that your office will be inclined to also constructively resolve this issue,” wrote Levitas in a letter to GPC on Oct. 31.

On Nov. 6, the Collegian followed up with Jim Rasmus, GPC chief human resource director, on the phone about the progress of reducing the cost. Rasmus indicated that “the lawyers were handling it” and were “well aware” of the situation.

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