Student Newspaper’s $16 Million Investigation Hits $3,000 Wall

David Schick spent months on a $16 million story– before hitting a nearly $3,000 wall.  In Schick’s words, “The wall took the form of exorbitant Open Records Act costs.”

Since late last spring semester, the editor-in-chief of The Collegian has been investigating a $16 million budget deficit at Georgia Perimeter College and the accompanying controversial removal of the school president.

Over the summer, a new number entered– and has continued to partially hold up– Schick’s investigation: $2,963.39.  GPC administrators initially charged the Collegian that amount to fulfill a standard open records request for documents related to the budget turmoil.  The sudden, extreme fee was a gigantic deviation from GPC’s response to three previous Collegian requests.  For those requests, the school supplied more than 1,200 pages of documents, which required 39 hours of staff work to ferret out and compile, for FREE.

So, to review…

First three requests over the summer: handled for free.

Fourth request, very similar to the first three: Close to $3,000.

In a letter to the school, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte called the fourth request charge “excessive.”  After the SPLC intervention, GPC dropped the fee to a still seemingly egregious $1,900.

Local legal counsel assisting the Collegian– obtained through the SPLC referral network– described the latter amount as “arbitrary, capricious, and deliberately designed to obstruct access to public information of obvious critical concern.”

According to the counsel’s separate letter to the school, the paper “is willing to pay $100 . . . to obtain the documents requested.”  Schick is hopeful for a resolution soon.

My Take: GPC officials, a bit of free advice.  You cannot erase a $16 million deficit by over-charging people who are requesting the truth.  Your school’s obviously in trouble.  The student paper simply wants to help, in part by providing answers about how you got into this mess and how you can clean it up.  Obstructing their efforts just seems lame, and out of step with the transparency needed to right your revenue ship.  As anyone who’s followed Wall Street knows, moral and economic deficits often run together.

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