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Can a government body request and receive payment for the actual costs incurred in retrieving and reviewing public records prior to release or copying of the records?

investigateEditor’s Note: This is a monthly column prepared by the Iowa Public Information Board to update Iowans on the IPIB’s activities and provide information on some of the issues routinely addressed by the board.

ANSWER: Iowa Code section 22.3(2) states that all expenses of the examination and copying of a public re- cord request can be charged to the requestor. In addi- tion, the lawful custodian can charge a reasonable fee to su- pervise the examination and copying of the request. This paragraph also states that the fee shall not exceed the actual cost of providing the service. Such actual costs “shall not include charges for ordinary expenses or costs such as employment benefits, depreciation, maintenance, electricity, or insurance associated with the administration of the office of the lawful custodian.”

In addition, the third sentence in Iowa Code section 22.3(1)
reads: “… Fulfillment of a request for a copy of a public record may be contingent upon receipt of payment of expenses to be incurred in ful lling the request and such estimated expenses shall be communicated to the requester upon receipt of the request….”

Read together, the two paragraphs are interpreted to allow a government body to recoup the actual costs associated with the retrieval, review, and release of public records. The last sentence in Section 22.3(2) supports this interpretation. There would be no reason to exclude employment bene ts from the term ‘actual costs’ if this sec- tion was interpreted to allow only the paper and printing costs of a record release. Part of the process of ful lling or supervising a record release requires someone with ade- quate ability to review the re- cords to insure that the proper records are retrieved for the request and to guard against the release of con dential re- cords or parts thereof.

In 1998, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld this interpreta- tion in Rathman v. Board of Directors of the Davenport Community School District, 580 N.W.2d 773 (Iowa 1998). The IPIB incorporated this decision into a dismissal order entered on December 18, 2014, in 14FC:0075, In re Alysia Santo. According to Rathman:

“Reading the statute as a whole, we conclude that the provisions of section 22.3 generally contemplate reimbursement to a lawful custodian of public records for costs incurred in re- trieving public records. We nd the phrase “all expenses of such work” to be especially sig- ni cant and indicative of the legislature’s intent that a lawful custodian has the authority to charge a fee to cover the costs of retrieving public records. Thus, access to public records does not necessarily mean “free” access. We recognize that permitting entities covered under chapter 22 to charge members of the public a fee to cover the cost of retrieving public records does, to some extent, limit public access to public records. While the legislature did not intend for chapter 22 to be a revenue measure, at the same time it did not intend for a lawful custodian to bear the burden of paying for all expenses associated with a public records request.”

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