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Commissioners hike Dewey freedom of information fee 150 percent

Smith: huge increase clouds transparency
February 18, 2019

Dewey commissioners learned Feb. 9 that a January vote to standardize and lower copying fees for public documents also hiked fees for FOIA requests 150 percent.

At council’s Jan. 21 meeting, commissioners adopted an ordinance to amend copying fees for administrative and police documents from $1 to 25 cents per page.

At the time, Town Counsel Fred Townsend told commissioners the change would not apply to copying fees for FOIA requests, which were 10 cents a page after the first 20 pages; the first 20 pages are free.

On Feb. 9, Townsend said after further review of the ordinance, he wished to retract his statement. “The ordinance you approved does apply to FOIA,” Townsend said.

FOIA request fees have since been updated on the town website to 25 cents a page after the first 20 pages.

Commissioner David Moskowitz said commissioners voted in January based on incorrect information. Mayor TJ Redefer did not open the floor to a vote; Redefer said commissioners could vote on the issue in the future.

Jeffrey Smith of Dewey Citizens for Accountability has filed four FOIA requests with the town since Jan. 14. DCA’s most recent request on Feb. 11 seeks information on contracts and bartering agreements with Coastal Towing.

Smith said most FOIAs are provided electronically without expense to the town, “except for when the town needlessly and wastefully prints out pages for its own use instead of handling the documents electronically. “Despite the mayor’s effort to cloud transparency with huge increases in fees, DCA will continue needed requests for public information on the governance of Dewey Beach, a right the residents have in monitoring the actions of town officials,” Smith said.

In a Feb. 11 email, Moskowitz called the January vote a misstep. “I believe the old price of 10 cents [per] copy for FOIA requests was the correct price and will be pushing for this to be on an upcoming meeting agenda,” the email read. “Costs for open government should be minimized, not be more than doubled.”