University of Kansas charges top dollar for access to public emails
PAY WALL: The University of Kansas is charging $1,450 for access to two weeks worth of public emails from a professor.
By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — Just how much should it cost to get a few weeks’ worth of emails from a government employee?
According to the University of Kansas, about $1,450. Yes, you read that right, and no, I didn’t misplace a decimal. After Kansas Watchdog asked for two weeks of email (about 2,700 messages) sent and received by professor David Guth, KU set the estimated price tag on par with a cheap used car.
TWO WEEKS: Cost breakdown for 14 days of email sent and received by KU Prof. David Guth.
Guth, if you recall, is the Jayhawks journalism professor who posted an inflammatory tweet calling for the deaths of the children of National Rifle Association members following the Navy Yard shooting Sept. 16.
Undaunted, I revised my original request to pare it down to a mere two days (about 200 messages). While I thought this would make a significant dent in the cost, KU proved me wrong once again. For 48 hours worth of Guth’s emails, KU said it would cost about $346.
The bulk of the cost was the 4 1/2 hours for a manager to review the 200 messages sent and received by Guth over the course of two days. Yet, somehow, that same manager is estimated to be able to handle an extra 2,500 messages in only an additional 90 minutes under my original request?
Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, said this extreme cost is a prime example why reasonable limits need to be placed on the allowable charge for open records requests.
“It’s their loophole to hide information, is to put an outrageous price tag on it,” LaTurner said. “I question the character of KU in a lot of ways, and this is just one more, that is too much.”
Earlier this year LaTurner introduced legislation aimed at capping over-the-top fees on public records. The bill never made it out of committee.
Rich Gannon, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Press Association, agreed that KU’s fees seemed excessive without further detail as to how they arrived at the final number. Gannon said it’s a tactic he sees commonly enforced in state government.
“We are confronted by excessive fee complaints so often, nothing surprises me,” Gannon said.
Jane Rosenthal, KU custodian of public records, blamed requirements in the Kansas Open Records Act for the high cost of obtaining the emails. Rosenthal said a manager — being paid $65 per hour — needs to comb through each message for exceptions to the law.
“If an exception is applied, we would then review to determine what, if any, information in that email could be released, and thus whether parts of the email would need to be redacted,” Rosenthal said.
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