Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has notified the city of Frontenac that it violated the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) when it requested a $3,500 fee in order to furnish copies of public records to a reporter.
In October 2019, a reporter with KOAM and Fox 14 News filed a KORA complaint with the attorney general’s office alleging, in part, that the city’s $3,500 fee request to furnish public records he requested on Sept. 18 was unreasonable.
Upon investigation, the attorney general’s office determined that Frontenac’s fee request was unreasonable and thus violated the KORA because it failed to explain or justify its $3,500 fee request, including why it was seeking $225 per hour for any time spent by its outside legal counsel.
“While the city may recover its actual costs in responding to a KORA request, those costs must still be reasonable,” the attorney general’s office wrote in a finding of violation. “An hourly rate of $225.00 per hour for attorney time is per se unreasonable. Outside counsel may charge a governmental entity for its services. However, based on the public policy and purpose of the KORA, it is unreasonable for a public agency to pass those costs onto a requester without a significant reduction in the hourly fee rate.”
As a result of the finding of violation, the attorney general has imposed the following requirements on the city:
• Cease and desist from any further violation of the KORA;
• Review and amend its city ordinance outlining fees for access to public records to ensure compliance with the KORA;
• Adopt, review, or update any internal city policies governing how staff is to respond to KORA requests, including the calculation of costs necessary to do so;
• Establish and maintain a checklist for city staff to use and consider when calculating actual costs necessary to respond to a KORA request;
• Identify at least one and a half hours of training on the KORA for any interim or permanently appointed city attorney, city administrator, city clerk, city records custodian or others required to respond to or process records requests, and each member of the city council to attend;
• Provide the attorney general with a written report of compliance within 60 days of the finding of violation.
A copy of the finding of violation, which was signed last week by the attorney general, is available at http://ag.ks.gov/open-govt/enforcement-actions. Information about the requirements of the KORA and the KOMA can be found at http://ag.ks.gov/open-govt.