The new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation has an effective date of January 2010, but DeKalb’s Office of the City Clerk will not not wait until then to begin implementing policy and procedural changes in fulfilling FOIA requests.
In fact, at least two changes — that of charging for copies of documents only after the first 50 pages, and charging .15 per page copied — have already been made by the office on an informal basis, according to Steve Kapitan, who has been working as Clerk for about three months. The old practice was to begin charging for copies after the first 15 pages, he said.
“Now that the law has been signed I will be changing the policy formally, including making a change on the FOIA forms in the office and on the web site,” said Kapitan, who also stated an intention to calculate and charge the exact cost of copying.
The city clerk does not anticipate problems with meeting the new deadline for responding to FOIA requests, which statutorily will reduce response time for non-commercial purposes from seven business days to five. The response time for FOIA requests related to commercial activities has been extended, he said, and balances out the tighter deadline for requests by private citizens and public-interest entitities. Most FOIA requests processed by the City of DeKalb are commercial, and the new revisions specify the city will have 21 working days to respond to them. DeKalb’s revised FOIA form* will differentiate between commercial and non-commercial uses.
However, Kapitan cautions that the Clerk’s office cannot require citywide adherence to the new deadline before the legislation takes effect. “I can’t unilaterally implement that change since many of the city records are held in other departments. But when there is a request for records controlled by the Clerk’s Office, we will begin meeting the five business day standard for non commercial records requests,” he said.
Staff discussions and orientations are planned for the coming weeks to prepare for full January 1 implementation.
*No person is required to use the City of DeKalb’s FOIA form or any other public body’s FOIA form. It is a tool to make in-house routing easier and it prompts the responder to supply the information needed to process the request. Sometimes I use the form but often I type a letter. If I could type the information directly into the form instead of having to print it and fill it out by hand, I would probably use the form more often (hint, hint).