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Michigan group cries foul over $52k price tag for public information request

Oct 8, 2015

Credit Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

A progressive group is crying foul over the price tag a state agency requested for processing a public information request it submitted.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Treasury sent an email to officials in his department and the governor’s office that said the department considered denying the request because it was too broad. But he said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette advised it to use “the fee approach.”

That fee request ended up being $52,000.

The department attempted to redact the “fee approach” line and others in the email and corresponding documents, but the words were visible through the black marker ink used for the redactions.

Another line the department tried to redact said the $52,000 fee “may cause them to ‘cry wolf.’”

Progress Michigan released the documents to reporters on Thursday.

“We’ve often said – even when this happened we said we believe these charges are to deter us from getting this information. And certainly now we believe we have proof that the AG’s office is encouraging that behavior,” said Progress Michigan Director Lonnie Scott.

“We believe that this information was obviously political advice from the attorney general’s office, not just legal advice.”

Scott says the Michigan Department of Education and the Education Achievement Authority provided the requested information free of charge. The information request was for “all communications with Paul Pastorek,” Gov. Rick Snyder’s education advisor at the time.

Progress Michigan is calling for a complete overhaul of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to prevent exorbitant fees and what it sees as inappropriate redactions.

“We don’t believe that it’s just Progress Michigan,” said Scott. “We believe that any time there are records that people don’t want to be out there, they’re using fees as a way to deter you from actually getting the information.”

A spokesperson for Schuette released the following statement:

“As their own info says, our office advocated for disclosing the info, no withholding it. But the taxpayers expect they won’t have to pay for an attack group’s fishing expedition, so we follow the law on fees. It’s just tiresome games from a political attack group.”