A 20-Cent Public Records Fight Pits Cal Poly vs. Student Newspaper

An odd public records fight involving one email, two dimes, and a four-hour drive recently played out between the student newspaper and administrators at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Combatant #1: Sean McMinn, a reporter at The Mustang Daily, seeking a legally-allowable copy of an email for an interesting story he was writing on school policy involving professors’ in-class political statements.

Combatant #2: California State University’s Office of Public Affairs, which handles hundreds of requests for all schools within the CSU system and likes to play things by the book.

A 30-second recap of the fight (hat tip Los Angeles Times): McMinn asks informally for a copy of an email sent by Cal State’s chancellor pertinent to his story.  Public Affairs refuses.  McMinn files a formal public records request.  Public Affairs relents.  But they inform him he needs to either drive to their office four hours away to look at it or receive an email copy that comes with a required 20-cent charge.  Payable only in advance.  And only by check.  And only a check sent via the mail.  Which would take days.  And thus cause McMinn to miss his deadline.  Up against the ropes, McMinn asks if a friend closer to the office could stop by and look at the email for him.  No.  Late in the fight and growing desperate, McMinn asks if an exception could be made regarding the crazily low fee?  I mean, after all, it’s only 20 cents.  No.

The outcome of the fight, according to the Times: “McMinn scrambled and found a source that forwarded him a copy [of the needed email]– just before deadline.”

The analysis of one ringside commentator (OK, online commenter): “Do all CSU HQ staff have to pass a knucklehead exam to qualify for employment, or just the ones involved in this story?”  (My answer is pending a 20-cent check clearance.)

Happy Saturday. :)

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