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Open Records Law Request? See What The Lawyers Say (You Pay)

Tuscola County raises stakes for obtaining public records

Tuscola County says it will not fulfill a document request filed under the state Freedom of Information Act unless a law firm is paid for 50 hours of staff time at $56.70 per hour to review the documents, which were requested by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The cost comes to $3,224, which the county says the Mackinac Center must pay if it wants to see the documents.

Assessing steep charges is a common method municipalities use to avoid sharing public records. But Tuscola County has gone beyond this by demanding payment for outside lawyers to review the documents. The county provided a breakdown of the costs and it includes 50 hours of review by a law firm.

The practice is unusual, and if widely adopted without limits by the state and other local governments in their own responses to document requests, the future value of Michigan's Freedom of Information Act could be diminished.

The Mackinac Center sent its request to Tuscola County last October, seeking records from 2019 related to a wind turbine tower development by NextEra Energy Resources.

Thomas Bardwell, the chairman of the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, did not respond to an email seeking comment.