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Electronic government records should be free to public

Electronic documents were supposed to be the ultimate answer to government openness. Reams of information could be bundled and sent off en masse with basically no overhead and no dead trees, and it would take a few seconds of clicking on a computer rather than hours at the copy machine.

Even though transmitting electronic documents costs virtually nothing to local governments, there’s still a charge associated with this service in many cities. This week I learned that while everyone at Fountain Hills Town Hall is super friendly and helpful, they also charge 50 cents for the first page and 10 cents each additional page to e-mail PDF documents.

So, an electronic file containing 77 pages of public records that takes just a few seconds to attach to an e-mail costs $8.10.

Having access to information about what politicians are doing is critical for my job, but it’s also a right everyone in this country shares. It’s beyond frustrating that even though I’ve already paid for the work of public officials with my tax dollars, I have to pay yet again to be able to see exactly what is being done with my money.

— Chrystall Kanyuck is an
investigative reporting intern at
the Goldwater Institute.

3 comments

  1. I understand your frustration, but everything in government has an operations cost. Do you think there was no cost associated with converting older, original paper documents to PDFs? Document conversion is never free, and you didn’t in any way support your claim that “transmitting electronic documents costs virtually nothing to local governments.” That simply isn’t true. Costs add up, and unfortunately, there will always be some cost associated with bringing transparency to fruition. While you advocate for transparency by moving into the digital age and going paperless (and free of charge), others demand a “paper trail” in order to ensure government accountability. How do you mitigate the two when so many citizens want both? Furthermore, in a cash-strapped economy, I’m not surprised to see these fee-for-service charges popping up throughout various local governments. Surely you’ve taken a basic economics course and understand the law of supply and demand…perhaps if more people were as proactive as you are, the cost would be lower, if not free as you desire. But until then, I remain highly skeptical that those charges will ever disappear (though I definitely think they could stand to be much lower.)

  2. Electronic records are not free because they cost money to produ e. When any records are requested, the request goes to a person who must reseach them, often pulling together hundreds of pieces of information from different sources. Then the records must be put into a format which is comprehensible. Finally, it must be checked for inaccuracies. Other than fairly simple requests like agendas, etc this work is done by people whose main job is put on hold while they compile the information requested.

    A fee serves two purposes then… 1. cost recovery and 2. keeping down the level of requests to a dull roar so the main job can be done

  3. “…I’ve already paid for the work of public officials with my tax dollars…”
    I think this says it all. Public officials are supposed to do this kind of work as part of their job. If a lawyer were to request some records in order to prepare for a court case, would he/she have to pay? If not, why should Joe Public be charged?

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