Exempt from new FOI fee?

Media outlets may be exempt from a new fee for freedom-of-information requests, which was brought up in city council this week, along with several other fee changes in a report from staff.

Deb Clipperton provided a report, which included all of the city's new or altered fees heading into 2017, which included a minimum $20 fee on an actual-cost charge in place for "commercial" FOI requests.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit later said he believed the proposed charge was mostly intended to formalize a policy for a practice that has already been in place.

Currently, people are charged for the staff hours taken to satisfy an FOI request, but the new fee would place a minimum $20 on each request.

Jakubeit added that for lawyers who intend to make financial gains for themselves and their clients through FOI requests in civil disputes, the charge would help the city to recover the costs.

However, after a slew of questions regarding the charge, Coun. Helena Konanz offered to bring in wording at the next meeting to provide exemption for media from the mandatory charge.

When asked during council whether commercial requests included the media, corporate officer Dana Schmidt said she interpreted it as though it would.

She added that an individual reporter making a request rather than the media outlet would likely not make a difference, as it is still for a commercial purpose.

Schmidt was further pressed on whether media making an FOI request for the sake of the public interest would be considered commercial purposes.

"I would say commercial purposes if you're being paid to write a story for a newspaper, that's commercial purposes," she responded.

Konanz sought to resolve the issue, however, stating that she would bring the issue back at the next meeting to define commercial interests in the context of FOI requests to exclude media outlets.

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