Westland officials have agreed to drop a $5 charge for Freedom of Information Act requests and reduce the amount charged for paper copies in response to a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
The conservative organization sued the city in October over $45.61-per-hour copying costs for FOIA reports and the $5 “gatekeeping” fee. Westland agreed to lower the per-hour costs to $22.41 per hour and eliminate the fee to promote transparency, said Westland Mayor William Wild.
Wild, who recently announced he will run for Wayne County executive, said the $5 fee was more a deposit than a gatekeeping fee. The city receives about 2,000 FOIA requests annually and many people don’t bother to pick up the information requested, he said.
State law says a public body may not charge more than the hourly wage of the lowest paid public body employee, said Patrick Wright, director of the Midland-based organization.
“We’re glad to see that the city has agreed to change its policies to conform to state law,” he said. “They were charging fees that were in direct opposition to the law and were designed to discourage people from exercising their rights to obtain public documents.”
Wild said Monday that in addition to the reduced fees, more city information will be made available for free online.
“The point to remember here is that laws like FOIA are in place to encourage public participation in the democratic process,” Wright said. “We hope this prompts other municipalities to review their practices and make necessary changes to that end.”