Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

How much is that open records request?


As part of my open records quest concerning the GuitarTown project, I have uncovered an attempt to artificially inflate the cost of the request sent to Norm Bruce, the owner of Martha Merrill’s Bookstore and the President of the Business Improvement District (BID). Bruce asked the copy vendor for the BID, Quickprint, to charge 2 1/2 times the proper amount for photocopying in order to increase my costs for the open records request.

Bruce claimed he had trouble transferring the emails and the attachments I requested to a CD so he printed them out instead, contrary to my request for the files in their original electronic format. He then, without clearing the cost with me prior to doing this, attempted to charge me $.25 per page for the photocopies of the records.

What actually happened is Bruce took the emails to Quickprint to have them photocopied. I have in my possession a copy of invoice #17115 sent from Quickprint to the BID, charging them $.25 per page. Quickprint’s normal charge is $.10 per copy.

I have learned the invoice has not been paid by the BID because Executive Director Meghan Sprager questioned the bill. When she spoke with Colette at Quickprint, Colette informed her that the person who processed the order told her how much to charge.

Sprager informed Bruce of the overcharge, told him that the BID could not charge me more than “direct and necessary costs” for open records, and told Bruce he needed to get Quickprint to reissue the invoice for the proper amount. So far, the BID has not received a revised invoice.

(I should add, that there was no reason at all to make any photocopies. The printouts were themselves copies of the electronic records. The only reason for making the photocopies was to justify charging me for my open records request. This would suggest to me that Bruce is attempting to misuse BID funds – to pay for unnecessary copies for personal reasons.)

While this occurred, I informed Bruce that I was unwilling to pay any charge as the request was specifically for the records in electronic format, and that I was unwilling to pay for his problems with the computer. I also said his costs were likely much lower than $.25 per page (I estimated $2.73). He lowered the amount he wanted to charge me to $25 total, as I indicated on my original request that I should be notified prior to processing if the cost would exceed that amount. Bruce attempted to justify the $25 by saying his time was more valuable than just the cost of printing.

I held firm, again demanding that Bruce turn over the records at no cost to me. I also responded that as a public official he could not charge me for his time to process my request.

I have an email from Sprager to Bruce dated March 2nd indicating that both she and Bruce spoke with the city attorney who informed them that since my request was for the records electronically, they should be provided to me in that format since that was the format in which they were created. She also question why Bruce was attempting to seek reimbursement from me when his costs would be covered by the BID. And she repeated her offer to scan the photocopies to send to me.

Despite, this, Bruce did not release the records to me without charge until Monday, March 26th, after my attorney, Mike Maistelman of Maistelman & Associates, and I had given him a Tuesday morning deadline.

I will be turning over the copy of the invoice to Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel who has expressed an interest in investigating why Bruce attempted to inflate the cost of the open records request. It’s just another shady attempt to keep me from investigating GuitarTown. But now the public knows why I do not cave in when public officials suddenly come up with phony charges for public records. This type of behavior should not be tolerated by a professional organization like the Waukesha BID.


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