Friday, February 19, 2010
By Jack Sullivan
The Boston Redevelopment Authority responded to our post about the exorbitant costs of a public records request.
The BRA had hit WFXT-TV’s (Channel 25) Fox Undercover unit with a bill for more than $47,000 for information they were seeking during a joint investigation with CommonWealth magazine surrounding the agency’s affordable housing programs.
“The request received from FOX25-TV was far more labor intensive than most because of the sensitive nature of the personal information requested,” Jessica Shumaker, a BRA spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “In recognition of this, in addition to the quote provided for a full response, the BRA also offered to provide fewer documents containing the core information requested at a far more economical price. The BRA will continue to work with any and all members of the public to provide access to its records.”
Shumaker did not address our calculation that the estimated time for each of the files requested is four hours and, multiplying by the 422 files requested, would total nearly a year’s work for one $28 an hour employee.
But Shumaker insisted that most public records requests are met with minimal cost. “We receive hundreds of Public Records requests annually and in the vast majority of them charge only a nominal fee based on the statutory formula for complying with those requests,” she wrote.
What they don’t tell you, though, is even if they meet a public records request, they’ll still send over reams of documents on your dime that are virtually useless because of the black-outs on the pages.
For instance, last fall, CommonWealth requested all documents related to a loan between the BRA’s Boston Local Development Corporation and the Baystate Banner. After paying $42.60 for copying costs, we received a three-inch thick file with more than two-thirds of the information redacted on documentation submitted by the Banner. We basically received fairly expensive scrap paper without being informed that was what we were paying for.