Lehi's city leaders seem confused about their relationship with the public. Perhaps they see themselves as professionals protecting important information from the prying eyes of private-citizen busybodies, rather than as the servants of taxpayers.
How else is one to interpret a new ordinance to charge exorbitant rates for providing public information to the public? From now on, anyone who wants to use the state Government Records Access Management Act to obtain public records from Lehi will have to pay huge hourly rates for the privilege, depending on how high up the request is handled. In the worst case say, a request that involves the highly technical expertise necessary to retrieve e-mails the person making the request would have to pay the rates charged by an IT company with which the city contracts.
The regular rates could be as much as $50 an hour if a department head is involved. It could go as low as $20 per hour if you need someone from just the support staff. By state law, the first 15 minutes are free.
These are not reasonable fees. They seem meant to discourage the public and to keep the city from having to be accountable.
When the state access law, known as GRAMA, was passed, its intent was to provide an orderly way for the public to obtain records and for governments to recover reasonable costs in the process. The underlying principle behind this and all other access laws is that the public, and not the bureaucrats, own all government records.
Lehi's city attorney told this newspaper the ordinance came about because of a large number of recent requests for records. He also said it would be unfair for all city taxpayers to bear the burden of retrieving those records.
But, of course, the issue here really isn't about burdens. It's about openness and accountability. We'd like to see the ledger showing the actual costs of fulfilling the recent records requests. It's unlikely these would amount to much per taxpayer.
Newspapers have filled their pages for years with stories about local leaders who have questionable relationships with developers and others, or who misuse funds or otherwise act inappropriately. Easy access to records acts as a backstop to help protect against such things.
Lehi ought to reaffirm its commitment to accountability and lower the fees.