City Commissioner Nancy Miller, at the end of the most recent city commission meeting, made a startling request on behalf of the Tallahassee Democrat.
Ms. Miller asked if the City of Tallahassee could waive information request fees for the Tallahassee Democrat. The request was only for the Tallahassee Democrat. Other media outlets would have to pay the fees.
Information request fees are costs charged to those who seek documents or information that requires city staff to stop their city work and recover documents. The fees are allowed under Florida state statutes.
For example, Tallahassee Reports recently requested a group of emails and the cost was approximately $250. We did not ask for a waiver.
This fee waiver idea emerged from a discussion Commissioner Miller had with Skip Foster, the publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat.
On behalf of Mr. Foster, Miller asked the city commission if there was a way to provide, to the recognized affiliated news service of the city, public records now and in the future free of charge.
As a facebook poster pointed out, the Tallahassee Democrat isn’t “affiliated with the city, and anyone in an elected position should know that, or have an issue if it was.”
Attorney Lew Shelley quickly pointed out that there is no legal basis for favoring one media outlet over another with regards to fees for gathering public records.
City Commissioner Scott Maddox, who appeared shocked by the request, said “I’m a little uncomfortable with an entity contacting one or two commissioner and asking for a fee waiver.”
The idea died from a lack of interest.
The Commissioner Miller fee waiver request raises a number of questions.
First, is it not unethical for Commissioner Miller, who is a filed candidate and has an opponent, to seek a financial favor for the Tallahassee Democrat who will obviously have some say in how her election will be covered?
And second, is it appropriate for a publisher of a newspaper to be asking for financial favors -privately – from an elected official and a candidate?