Third Party & Independents Archives

Stealing From Taxpayers in Alabama

Tim McCollum is an ambitious pubic servant. The assistant attorney general with the Alabama Department of Public Safety stated that photographing public records is stealing from the state’s tax payers. If you want a copy of some part of the public record, you’re going to have to pony up the cash for those 3 pages of photocopying that would otherwise not flow into Alabama’s state coffers. According to Tim McCollum’s world view, it should be the Availability of Information Act and not the Freedom of Information Act. But does any state or local government, or the federal government, have the right to charge for copies of the public record, even as it adheres to FOIA? Each state has it’s own version of the act and some are more restrictive than others, but where do fees fit in? According to FOIA’s website, they do charge for some freedom of information requests, but that is to cover any work that must be done to retrieve the information. It seems that someone who takes the trouble to photograph public records in Alabama is doing all the work themselves.

Then there's the question of ownership of public records as pointed out rather bluntly by Frank Gibson, ex president of the Freedom of Information Coalition, who called McCollum's statements "absurd." One has to assume that McCollum was referring to public records that are not prohibited from general viewing due to private information - like marriage and divorce records - where those involved have requested they be maintained private. So it seems he was asserting the state of Alabama's right to charge a toll on any copying of public records. Of course that would mean that anyone with an internet connection - that would be most everyone - could potentially be stealing from taxpayers in Alabama. While it is not at all clear whether any government actually owns the public records, they are unquestionably gatekeepers and that has meant a sort of ownership, a very possessive own in fact. Maybe this is just a flub by a single government lawyer, but it may instead be the case that information on the public record must not just be freely available, but also available at no cost to taxpayers. Whether they pay their taxes in Alabama or elsewhere.

Posted by AllardK at September 23, 2014 2:41 PM
Comment #383704

I needed copies of some documents. I asked for a copy of the entire folder. I was told this would cost in the hundreds of dollars. The fee was one dollar per page. I asked why so much when I could go across the street and make a copy for fifteen cents. I was told the cost was one dollar because records are not allowed off the premises. I had to pay many times a normal cost because of the possessive nature of the government sheparding it’s records.

When you think of the parasitic nature lawyers have with government I can see why it would take advantage of this monopoly on access. Lawyers pass the cost of documents to their clients just like any other business would. The monopoly government has on public records enables this type of gouging.

Archival has a cost in any medium. Government isn’t supposed to be a for-profit business but, how are you going to arrive at the true cost of archival when the government is doing the archiving?

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 24, 2014 5:02 PM
Comment #383719

Yep. Theft. What’s new?

How are property taxes there in Alabama?

That’s my largest monthly bill in Texas.

At any rate, the voters have the government that they elect, and re-elect, and re-elect, … , at least, until repeatedly rewarding corruption, incompetence, greed, and arrogance finally becomes too painful.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 24, 2014 9:59 PM
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