News Story

Westland Dropping 'Gatekeeper' FOIA Fee, Lowering Costs for Public Documents

Mackinac Center lawsuit filed against the city settled; public no longer overcharged for information

The $45 an hour copy clerk is a thing of the past in Westland thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy about the excessive fees the Wayne County city was charging for public documents.

Additionally, the city no longer will charge people $5 for getting an information request started and it will lower its copying costs from $1 a page to 10 cents per page, according to a settlement between the city and the Mackinac Center.

"If $5 is OK, then why not $1,000?" Patrick J. Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said in a release about the gatekeeper fee the city was charging. "And while they were charging $1 a page for copies, we found a UPS store literally right across the street from City Hall that only charged 10 cents per page. There’s no reason why the government should charge 10 times as much as the private sector."

The lawsuit was filed in response to a FOIA request Michigan Capitol Confidential made asking for information about the city’s municipal golf course.

Westland, which lost another FOIA lawsuit last year, previously said the fees were needed to cover costs.

State law says "a public body may not charge more than the hourly wage of the lowest pad public body employee capable of retrieving the information necessary to comply with a request under this act."

Westland was charging $45.61 for copying costs, which translates to an annual compensation rate of $94,868. It now will charge about half that amount. The city also agreed to pay the Mackinac Center's attorney fees.

Westland Mayor William Wild told The Detroit News that the changes were made to promote transparency.

"We're glad to see that the city has agreed to change its policies to conform to state law," Wright said. "They were charging fees that were in direct opposition to the law and were designed to discourage people from exercising their rights to obtain public documents."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.