I learned firsthand last week that the cost of getting public information from the Capistrano Unified School District comes with a big price—$269,064.95.
I believe that this over-the-top price tag is the latest in a series of moves to deter Patch from learning how the school board and what message the district wanted the public to hear about those restorations.
It would take 3,272.50 hours at a cost of $82.22 hourly to retrieve the copies of the communications Patch is attempting to obtain between district staffers, trustees, Teamsters, unions, etc., since December about the restoration, district spokesman Marcus Walton wrote in an e-mail to Patch on March 9. Walton said that because the district's backup and storage policy for e-mail was created for disaster recovery and discovery purposes, it does not have an e-mail archiving server solution for easy access.
Though we had a hunch the cost of the information was incredible, we wanted confirmation from our legal department before we published the district's response. We were assured this morning that it’s indeed outrageous.
Walton's response does not address those e-mails that still reside in mailboxes, and handwritten memos or other notes not delivered via e-mail that would not require extrication. Under state law, the district cannot bill for staff time for retrieving those. While the public-records law does indeed allow public agencies to charge for programming or extraction work to satisfy a request such as ours, we believe the amount of extracation has been bloated to an inaccurate figure.
In light of , which is devoted to promoting discussion about the importance of open government and freedom of information, I feel especially compelled to share with you the other resistance we've met lately.
"I am miffed.” “I am very frustrated.” “I am not happy," Walton has told us about this new workload created by our request for information. He would be too busy, he said, to answer any questions from Patch until the request was fulfilled, and added that he would not be able to take his children to Disneyland that weekend.
Later, he told our education reporter that he "controls" her. It was an off-the-cuff remark said in jest, we think, but it sheds insight into how he perceives his job of disseminating public information.
I was told this morning that we're causing "more and more" problems for the district and that he's growing weary of attempting to defend our news operation.
Clarification: In the paragraph above, Walton said the "more and more'" problems he referred to dealt with Patch reports of alleged Brown Act violations by the district, not the public records request.
We don't need Walton to defend our website or our reporting. We're not here to please him or anyone else at the district. We're here to tell our readers the truth, whether it's good or bad.
The $269,064.95 is obviously too high of a cost for us to bear. We've condensed our request and are working to obtain the information as quickly as possible.