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Johnston Board Denies Waiving $1,400 Fee for Records Request, Parent Threatens Lawsuit

The Johnston school board voted 5-2 to deny waiving fees associated with an open records request made by a middle school parent.

The Johnston school board voted, 5-2, to deny waiving a $1,400 fee associated with an open records request made by a middle school student's parent.

In December, Troy Gomez requested a year's worth of records associated with his son and an alleged bullying incident in October 2012.

Gomez asked the district to waive the $1,400 fee associated with the request because it would "place undue hardship on our family."

During the patron input portion of the meeting, Gomez said if the request was denied he would be forced to file a lawsuit against the district.

The district charged Gomez $23 per hour for the 60 hours it took to collect and filter the records.

Superintendent Clay Guthmiller said the work actually totaled 63 hours but the first three hours are free.

Board member Julie Walter, who voted against not waiving the fee, said that while a fee should be associated with requesting open records, the fee charged to Gomez was exorbitant.

Board member John Dutcher, who also wanted to waive the fee, said the district has a "sacred obligation" to know who looks out for students.

"Basically, it comes down to a matter of trust. I do not trust that I am receiving an accurate story from administration on this matter," Dutcher said of the district's response to the Gomez family.

"As an aside, should the board deny waiver of these fees for the Gomez family, I’m prepared to exercise my board privilege to the information and request a set of the records to satisfy both my need for answers and that of the Gomez family," he said.

Board member, and vice president, Greg Dockum said he had great compassion for the Gomez family, but was afraid waiving the fee would set a precedent.

"Iowa code says to charge a reasonable fee," he said. "Any fees adopted must be applied to all requests. If we waive the charges, it says we won't be able to charge anyone because of uniformity."

Dutcher continued to disagree with the discussion to deny waiving fees.

"If we deny, then it sends a chilling message on the district's transparency," Dutcher said.

Also, in December, Gomez wrote district administrators and board members about a teacher showing a portion of the "Texas Chainsaw 3D" movie during math class. That teacher was disciplined, according to district officials.

Troy Gomez January 30, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Iowa Code § 22.3 (2011) Simply authorizes the School District to charge a reasonable fee associated with an open records request. The fee may include a retrieval fee to cover the costs of retrieving public records. No where does the law state that a fee MUST be charged! The law states “A fee may be charged to cover actual costs of making available to requesters Information”. Mr Dockum’s statement “Iowa Code says to charge a responsible fee” is completely inaccurate. The statement “If we waive the charges, it says we won't be able to charge anyone because of uniformity." is false! The law states: “Any fee schedule adopted by a custodian must be uniformly applied to all requesters. 1982 Op. Att'y Gen. 76. Mr. Dockum and Board President, Mr. Farrell, both incorrectly referenced the law in their public statements of why they were voting against waving the fees for the Gomez family. The District does not currently have a policy or fee schedule and hasn’t had one for over 100 years. Without a fee schedule in place, their assumption that the District “won't be able to charge anyone because of uniformity” is misleading to the public. School Board members were elected to be an independent voice for the public tax paying citizens of Johnston. They owe us all due diligence in checking and verifying the facts and legality of issues before voting. Read the Law for yourself: http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/images/pdfs/Openrecords_out.pdf
Please! February 09, 2013 at 04:31 AM
If Dutcher wants to pay for the expenses why not on his dime.The appointed Board has already voted 5-2. Make a Board member change if you don't like the vote. Why are the taxpayers responsible to fight this fight?

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