Some years ago, an area town was charging residents $25 for each Freedom of Information Law request to come to the clerk's office.
Town officials admitted at the time the charge was to make it inconvenient for anyone to seek information from the town. But Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, pointed out the town was in the wrong.
"The FOIL law limits the fee to 25 cents per page unless a different fee is described by statute," Freeman said earlier this month in a phone interview. He said about the same in 2008, when Sheridan ended its illegal $25 per request policy.
So why is the Dunkirk Police Department still charging residents and non-residents $7 per request for accident and incident reports - and an additional $15 for expedited processing?
Those reports done by the police department, a public agency paid for with taxes, are public documents. The costs for those documents are not to exceed 25 cents per page. If it does, it is illegal.
Even Stephanie Kiyak, councilwoman at large, sought an answer for the overcharging last week. "We're perhaps in violation of FOIL laws when it comes to copying what have you. I was hoping you could clarify for us if that's indeed the case or if that was not really stated correctly," Kiyak asked of city Police Chief David Ortolano.
Kiyak was told the city is looking into this.
But by Freeman's interpretation alone, the city's charge for public documents is illegal. In other words, the city is stealing from taxpayers and - as of right now - no one can force them to obey a law they are blatantly dismissing.