***The Iowa Standard is an independent media voice. We rely on grassroots financial supporters to exist. If you appreciate what we do, please consider a one-time sign of support or becoming a monthly supporter (even just $5/month would go a long way in sustaining us!) We also offer advertising options for advocacy groups, events and businesses! If you’ve ever used the phrase “Fake News Media” — this is YOUR chance to do something about it! You can also support us on PayPal at [email protected] or Venmo at Iowa-Standard-2018 or through the mail at: PO Box 112 Sioux Center, IA 51250 Thank you so much for your support and please invite your friends and family to like us on Facebook, sign up for our email newsletter and visit our website!***

It is fitting that House File 637 finds its way into subcommittee today.

That bill is a companion bill to SF 218 that will address fees associated with public records request.

We detailed the actions of the Cedar Falls Schools District from a couple of years ago. Now we have another example of why this law is necessary.

Leaders from Ames schools were supposed to appear before the House Government Oversight Committee on Tuesday. However, they essentially “lawyered up” on Monday and let the House Government Oversight Committee know they weren’t going to attend.

Once that happened, The Iowa Standard decided to file an open records request. We limited the request to certain individuals and a certain timeframe. But the initial search yielded 5,000 emails according to the district.

This time it doesn’t appear to be an abuse of “legal review” fees as it was with the Cedar Falls schools. Ames is planning to charge $75.34/hour for legal review and estimates that will take 21 hours.

Yes, that $75.34 an hour is more than the $46.50 charged by the Iowa Supreme Court a couple of years ago, but it pales in comparison to the three rates provided by Cedar Falls of $125/hour, $190/hour and $275/hour.

So, thanks…I guess.

But what is obscene in the Ames situation is the $62.47/hour figure for 18 hours of estimated work of simply retrieving the documents.

It’s hard to imagine how that will take 18 hours. And it’s more difficult to imagine how the lowest-paid qualified employee to do the work earns $62.47 per hour. That equates to nearly $130,000 per year.

Consider me a skeptic of whether or not that person is the lowest-paid qualified employee to do that work.

I’ll put it this way…as bad as Cedar Falls handled the legal review, they did only charge $160.52 to “retrieve” and send the 6,000 pages in documents. And I believe that figure would’ve been the same if it were 36,000 pages in documents.

So the $1,124.46 price tag to simply retrieve the documents seems a bit excessive and anything but reasonable.

I have asked Chris Stensland, the Ames District’s Chief Financial Officer, some follow-up questions regarding the estimate.

I’ve already been told by an expert on this topic that $62 an hour to “retrieve” documents is “absolutely not” reasonable.

The Iowa Attorney General has said retrieval should be done by the lowest-paid qualified employee.

I’ll continue to fight this flagrant, obscene violation of Iowa’s open records laws.

And the bill in today’s subcommittee filed by Rep. Phil Thompson will go a long way in helping make open records truly open in the state of Iowa.

Because right now, government entities are keeping the public in the dark.

***If you would like to help cover the costs of the records request, please consider contributing to The Iowa Standard here. You can also give here or on Venmo at Iowa-Standard-2018. There’s also an option to send a check:

PO Box 112
Sioux Center, IA 51250

We appreciate your support and your help. We’re hopeful that the records requested help paint a fuller picture for the moms and dads who entrust their children to the Ames School District.***

Author: Jacob Hall