The principle of the thing

CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER

This story doesn’t begin with goblins and gore, but with praise.

I praise our local municipalities, because anytime I ask for information, I get it without question.

When I call Cherie down at the Charlevoix County Clerk’s Office, Cindy over at the City of Boyne City, or Deb over at the Sheriff’s Office, my requests are responded to in a timely manner, and barring a good (and legal) reason, I get the documents I’m looking for.

But I found myself in the position of needing information from the Wexford County Sheriff’s Department, and I found out what happens when governments don’t work this way.

I sent a request for a police report on February 10th by e-mail to Vickie Boersma, their Office Supervisor.

She responded by mailing me a statement of charges for $7.50, but no documents.

Being the conversational guy that I am, I picked up the phone and called her, asking her where my documents were.

She told me that no documents would be provided until I paid for them in advance.

Now, that might make sense on the surface, but it also has the added perk of being illegal.

I let her know this simple fact, and she disagreed, telling me that I am welcome to appeal.

So, the question you’re probably thinking at this point is, “When are they allowed to charge, and how much?”

Well, they’re allowed to charge the actual cost of copying and finding the documents and mailing them.

Give the fifty cents it costs to mail, I fail to see how one single police report would cost $7.00 at ten cents per page (police reports usually aren’t 70 pages long, after all).

Unless, of course, it took an hour to type the incident report number that I provided into their computer and click “print.”

But that’s all beside the point, because that’s not the issue here.

They’re also allowed to charge a good faith deposit of half the total cost if the cost exceeds $50.

But last time I checked, $7.50 didn’t exceed $50, and even so, $7.50 isn’t half of $7.50, is it?

I’m disappointed, because rather than approach them as a newspaper, I approached them as a member of the public, hoping upon hope that I would receive the same courtesy I’m so accustomed to from our municipalities up here, and I was asked to pay a charge that I shouldn’t have been asked to pay.

I’m just as disappointed, because when I called Ms. Boersma and informed her that this was illegal, even going so far as to cite the specific parts of the law, she didn’t respond as she should have.

She didn’t take the two minutes to bring up MCL 15.234 on her computer and clearly see what this meant, she simply said “no.”

This is exactly what we as citizens don’t deserve from our government.

And it makes me that much more thankful for the government officials I work with up here for the conscientious way in which they do their jobs.

So why, you may ask, am I putting up this fight for $7.50?

Is it really worth it?

Yes, it is, because if a unit of government is willing to skirt the law in this instance and deny one citizen their rights, how many other violations are they making?

How many people are being forced to jump through hoops to get the information that they’re entitled to by law?

I’m standing up not just for myself, but for everyone, because some day, you might need a document or information, and it is my hope that it will get easier as this continues.

 

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