Public records fee disputed in school suit
More than a year after he requested to view public records from Eagle County School District, “Speakout” publisher Michael Cacioppo and school officials still disagree on who will pay for retrieving them.
Cacioppo says he won’t pay the $1,700 it cost the school district to salvage computer records that he says support his allegations of a boycott against his weekly publication. He says the information should be available at a lower fee because it’s public information.
“Asking us to undelete files from our servers is similar to asking us to dig up papers from the county landfill,” says Rick Spitzer, director of technology for the school district. “Mr. Cacioppo is asking us locate documents that don’t exist and to prove that no such document related to the boycott flyer exists. Proving that these files never existed cannot be done.”
On Feb. 13, representatives from Eagle County School District spent all day in court with Cacioppo in a hearing tied to his 2002 request for public records. The focus of the hearing was for the district to demonstrate how it responded to Cacioppo’s public records request, says Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the school district.
Although it wasn’t the focus of the Feb. 13 hearing, Cacioppo has charged that the school district, through its e-mail system, promoted an alleged boycott of “Speakout’ advertisers.
“There’s no “alleged.’ There are documents that show they passed down boycott material,” Cacioppo says.
The school district repeatedly denied that allegation. The court case will continue March 5.
To comply with Cacioppo’s public information request, which requested district e-mail files, a special computer consultant was hired to do an extensive search that included undeleting previously deleted files and utilizing applications that are not word processing applications.
The school district is requesting that Cacioppo pay the cost of retrieving the documents he asked for in his Sept. 5, 2002 request. On Sept. 16, 2002, the school district told Cacioppo he could review the data he requested, but he refused to pay the $1,700 that the school district was requesting.
“Who can afford to pay $1,700 to view public records?” Cacioppo says. “I told the school district that I wouldn’t pay. That amount isn’t reasonable. State laws talks about reasonable fees.”
Spitzer says the school district has always been prompt in responding to public records requests.
“The district hasn’t charged Cacioppo for paper, floppy disks or CD ROMs,” he says. “The $1,700 represent charges associated with planning for and purchasing software and for the procedures necessary to undelete files from the district’s e-mail server.
“We decided to move forward and do the retrieval,” Spitzer says. “Either way, we knew we would end up in court.”
The school district hasn’t changed the process it uses to keep its files because of the lawsuit, Spitzer says.
“We feel we have been keeping them in the right way,” he says. “We’re still meeting state law in the way we archive public records.”
In the meantime, Cacioppo and the school district are waiting for a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court, which has decided to consider Cacioppo’s appeal of voter-approved salary increases for Eagle County School District employees in 2001.
Paying for public records
Colorado Public Records Law:
Cost of public records: The Colorado Public Records Law says copies may be made of any public record at a cost of not more than $1.25 per page; however, an additional “reasonable fee” may be charged for special requests.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.