High fees restrict public information

The Lebanon Daily Record Editorial Board

Lebanon’s search for a new mayor appears to be nearing an end, but interest in that issue has produced yet another concern for the city.

At least two people have sought to see city records related to the city’s mayor selection process, only to be surprised by the fees charged for emails and other records related to the search.  In addition to fees for staff time and 10 cents per page for scanning, the city added a $150 charge for legal review.

The city’s counselor, Chris Allen, at last Monday night’s Lebanon City Council meeting, said that Missouri’s Sunshine Law allows the city to charge the legal research fees. He said the  additional fee was needed because the work was time-consuming and it could take his staff an hour or more to to go through requests.  It was also noted that the person making the request does receive a refund if the process takes less time than expected.

The city asks for a deposit in advance, because in the past people have made records requests and then failed to pick up the records, resulting in lost time and expense.  City Clerk Laina Starnes said the fees were reimbursement for taxpayers, not profit for the city. In fact, she said, the city generally “bends over backwards” not to charge.

It should be noted that a government entity’s right to charge these fees has come under challenge, most recently in a case in St. Louis. A court ruling earlier this year found that Missouri public records laws do not allow government agencies to charge fees for the time they spend reviewing public records and redacting information deemed unreleasable before turning them over to the people who requested them. The decision became a precedent in St. Louis County but does not apply outside the county.

For the complete editorial, see the Weekend print edition of The Daily Record, or view the e-Edition online.


The Lebanon Daily Record

100 E. Commercial St.
Lebanon, MO 65536
(417) 532-9131