The Collegian is awaiting documents from the University System of Georgia in connection with its investigation on the GPC budget deficit.
On July 18, the Collegian made an open records request for email communications and was quoted a price of $2,963 to retrieve the documents. Just a couple of months earlier, the Collegian obtained over 1,000 pages of documents at no charge.
The Collegian spoke with John Millsaps, vice chancellor of media relations for the Board of Regents, at the BOR meeting on August 7.
“We were shocked by your open records request,” said Millsaps.
Millsaps explained that given the magnitude of this recent request, they would have to charge.
An itemized breakdown of the cost included review by the “chief audit officer” and “executive vice chancellor” to determine items which might be part of an open investigation.
The Collegian subsequently contacted Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, seeking his legal expertise on the situation. LoMonte reviewed the facts and faxed a letter to the USG on August 23.
“The quoted figure of $1610.16 for two ‘system administrators’ to retrieve archived documents, such as emails, plainly is excessive … The costs assessed included pre-production review of the documents by no fewer than three different University System administrators. This is excessive,” wrote LoMonte. “That this particular request would, contrary to established practice, carry a prohibitively large cost for fulfillment understandably creates suspicion that the University System is seeking to delay or frustrate the Collegian’s own investigation.”
A week went by with no response from the USG. LoMonte emailed the USG on behalf of the Collegian on August 31.
“Recognizing that it’s the Friday before a holiday, I wanted to make sure that you’d received the attached letter, which was faxed to your attention last week,” wrote LoMonte.
“We’re in the process of verifying our billing, and will respond shortly,” responded Burns Newsome, vice chancellor for legal affairs.
On September 6, the Collegian received a response from the USG detailing a revised breakdown of the cost for the open records request. The new total is listed at $1,882 and included exemptions of certain items due to an ongoing investigation.
“Since I assume it is the position of the University System that President Tricoli was neither ‘suspended’ nor ‘fired,’ the only colorable exemption would be for ‘material obtained in investigations … of complaints against public officers or employees.’ But that exemption clearly applies to material received after commencement of an investigation … It is not a blanket excuse to review each document for exempt ‘investigative’ matter. (If the University System is not investigating a ‘complaint’ against a public officer or employee, then no exemption applies at all, as there is no blanket ‘investigative’ exclusion in Georgia law.),” wrote LoMonte in his letter on August 23.