Well I spent most of yesterday going back and forth with the White County attorney, Matt Hutsell, about my FOI requests. It is now known that the requested records do exist, but the county does not currently wish to release them within the guidelines of FOI law. Specifically, they want to provide them as hard copies, rather than electronic format as I have requested, and they want to charge a fee.
Given that the requested documents are emails or electronic-mails, they should be ‘readily available’ in electronic format:
(B) A citizen may request a copy of a public record in any medium in which the record is readily available or in any format to which it is readily convertible with the custodian’s existing software.
Charging a fee for these records is a violation of Arkansas FOI law, given that the records have been requested in a way that will incur no costs other than personnel, which are explicitly prohibited:
(3)(A)(i) Except as provided in § 25-19-109 or by law, any fee for copies shall not exceed the actual costs of reproduction, including the costs of the medium of reproduction, supplies, equipment, and maintenance, but not including existing agency personnel time associated with searching for, retrieving, reviewing, or copying the records.
The county has also violated FOI law by not setting up a time for me to review/receive the records within 3 working days of my request:
(e) If a public record is in active use or storage and therefore not available at the time a citizen asks to examine it, the custodian shall certify this fact in writing to the applicant and set a date and hour within three (3) working days at which time the record will be available for the exercise of the right given by this chapter.
Also worth nothing: the county has cited an abundance of ‘private information’ that must be redacted as partial reason for their delay in meeting my requests. They are allowed to do so under FOI law, but under certain limitations, and they are responsible for bearing the cost:
(0)(1) No request to inspect, copy, or obtain copies of public records shall be denied on the ground that information exempt from disclosure is commingled with nonexempt information.
(2) Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be provided after deletion of the exempt information.
(3) The amount of information deleted shall be indicated on the released portion of the record and, if technically feasible, at the place in the record where the deletion was made.
(4) If it is necessary to separate exempt from nonexempt information in order to permit a citizen to inspect, copy, or obtain copies of public records, the custodian shall bear the cost of the separation.
Mr. Hutsell has assured me that the county does intend to fulfill my requests, but it appears that they only want to do it in their own time and way.
I will keep you posted.