Make no mistake. It’s no coincidence that this Thursday’s vote by the Islamorada Village Council to effectively increase the fee charged for public records requests comes after a contentious November election, which fueled an increase in such requests.

It will afford an early and insightful opportunity to see if Islamorada’s new council is honest with voters, or if the council will embrace a cynical stance that claims the higher fee is a response to an overburdened village staff and is merely about “cost recovery.”

Yes, staff processed more public records requests during an election year that included several local candidates with lengthy paper trails. That should surprise absolutely no one. We believe the real push behind the proposed fee increase is from elected officials who were chafed by having their past actions questioned publicly. Our advice would be to get used to that.

So, what’s the big deal with charging more for records requests? The village currently begins charging $26.44 per hour after the first hour to fulfill such requests. It now is proposing to start charging that rate after 30 minutes. That rate, by the way, is equivalent to the lowest hourly wage of the staff member that can search what are now predominantly digital files. That public employee makes $55,000 a year? Perhaps true cost recovery for taxpayers would be better attained by bringing staff pay in line with the local private sector.

But the impetus behind this maneuver is not cost recovery; it is to discourage records requests by making them more costly and thereby making it less likely that the council’s decisions will be questioned.

It’s an interesting test for the young council: Stand up for the public and oppose a fee change, or move the village one step further toward discouraging public scrutiny.

– Florida Keys Free Press

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