Someone in Topeka got a wee bit happy with the redaction Sharpie…

This is just a hoot…and it underscores a point I make all the time: when you are denied access to information, it is a story in and of itself! Look how much mischief these reporters are making:

Topeka city manager Jim Colson’s emphasized commitment to transparency isn’t evident in the city’s response to information requests.

Colson repeatedly has expressed the importance of government transparency since taking office in August. A recent test of that transparency resulted in the city releasing dozens of pages of redacted emails.

The results have been similar in multiple other Kansas Open Records Act requests made by The Topeka Capital-Journal in the past few months, as access to police reports and other information was denied.

The Capital-Journal requested — and paid $260 toward — access to emails from Colson’s first 15 weeks in office. Instead, the newspaper was charged $182 for one week of emails, nearly all of which had the text completely blacked out.

Topeka staff members, including Colson, said the request was too broad and called it a “waste” of city resources.

The response has solicited criticism from open government advocates and city council members.

“This kind of reaction to an open records request is the kind of response you would expect from a totalitarian regime, not the city of Topeka,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. “We understand there are some reasons for e-mails to be redacted, such as protected discussions of legal matters and some personnel information, but more than 75 percent of the pages were blacked out. That is incredible.”

Other requests made within the past three months that have been denied by the Topeka city attorney’s office include:

■ Access to videotapes seized by the Topeka Police Department relating to the Dec. 24, 2011, fatal shooting of a Hudson Liquor store clerk. The request was denied despite the case having been concluded with the killer’s sentencing in November.

■ Documents the Topeka city attorney’s office has produced since May 2004 addressing whether Topeka’s city council-manager form of government was approved in an illegal vote. The request was denied because the only documents responsive to the request were internal drafts.

■ Three requests made within the past month of defensive action reports from the Topeka Police Department. Two were denied, and one was returned with the officers’ names redacted. A court ruling in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal lawsuit indicated the department couldn’t strike out the officers’ names, but the decision only applied to that case.

Much, much more redaction here. And if you want a peek look at these blacked-out records!

A troubling bill in Wisconsin would cost FOI requesters dearly…

From the Department of Bad FOI Laws comes this nightmare:

[Wisconsin] Government agencies could once again attempt to charge hundreds – even thousands – of dollars to release public records about how police deal with and report on crime, under a draft bill in the Assembly. The bill also would allow agencies to extend those charges to other areas, such as records on taxpayer subsidies to businesses.

The proposal seeks to undo a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling last summer that found the City of Milwaukee could not charge the Journal Sentinel for the time its employees spent deleting from public records some information they considered confidential.

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2010 open records request based on a Journal Sentinel attempt to audit two weeks of incident reports for offenses such as assault, burglary and theft. The department, which had already produced copies of 100 incident reports for free, switched gears and told the news organization the additional 750 reports would cost about $4,000 and would take police more than nine months to produce.

While the lawsuit was moving through the courts, the news organization asked for much larger crime data files from the state Justice Department and the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office. Both agencies provided those records quickly and at minimal cost.

Ultimately, the Journal Sentinel reported that police had misreported thousands of violent assaults, rapes, robberies and burglaries as less serious offenses, and failed to correct the problems or publicly disclose them.

A consultant hired by the Fire and Police commission largely confirmed the findings. The consultant, who for months publicly backed Police Chief Edward Flynn and his department’s handling of the flawed crime figures, said he found no evidence of conspiracy to alter the numbers.

The sponsor of the draft bill is Rep. Garey Bies, chairman of the Assembly Corrections Committee and a former chief sheriff’s deputy in Door County. Bies said he hadn’t talked with the department or its police officers union about the bill. He said he wrote it after learning of the Supreme Court decision and talking to local officials in his district, who were concerned about being saddled with unexpected costs.

“I don’t want to see the taxpayer stuck with a bill from someone who’s maybe on a hunting expedition,” he said.

He said that most redactions should cost little or nothing, and that if newspapers are seeking records that cost thousands of dollars to redact, they must be making broad searches. Asked specifically about the costs charged to the Journal Sentinel for the Milwaukee police records, Bies said the newspaper “maybe should have been keeping track of that to start with.”

Bies said that he had not checked with legislative leaders about whether they backed his idea and that he expected difficulty in getting it to the floor.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said that in the past government officials have abused the fees that are allowed under the law. He predicted more would do so if the Legislature provided another avenue for charging fees.

“We consider it a tax on the public’s right to know. Public officials are already paid to do their jobs,” Lueders said. “Why should they get paid extra when they get paid to do this job already?”

Make no mistake: this would represent a huge blow to FOI requesters, and would open a cavernous new loophole to state FOI regimes everywhere, as state after state will move to enact similar provisions. This is a DEFCON 5 threat, people…

Wisconsin High Court: No, Agencies Can Not Charge for Redaction….

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday against the City of Milwaukee and for the Journal Sentinel in a dispute over whether a government body can charge for its employees to delete information deemed confidential from public records. Reversing a Milwaukee County judge’s ruling, the high court said Wisconsin’s 30-year-old public records law has never allowed public agencies to charge requesters for redacting information from records. The city argued it could charge for redacting under provisions of the law that allow fees to be charged for locating and copying records. The Supreme Court rejected that argument and said such fees could be used by governmental bodies to effectively deny release of records. “This case is not about a direct denial of public access to records, but the issue in the present case directly implicates the accessibility of government records,” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote in the decision. “The greater the fee imposed on a requester of a public record, the less likely the requester will be willing and able to successfully make a record request.”