A Freedom of Information Act request for Laketown Township emails will cost the filer $175, a slight reduction from original estimates, the township board unanimously decided on Wednesday, Oct. 11.
The decision came after what the township attorney called a rare filing for appeal before the entire board.
“It’s a first,” said Supervisor Linda Howell, saying it was important to have the attorney present to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s.”
James Smithers, 520 Butternut Drive, filed a FOIA request for, “Emails between all board members and Albert Meshkin for the month of August 2023 that includes any business, and Patrick Dietrich for the same period.”
Meshkin is the township manager. Dietrich was one of five candidates for appointment to an open trustee position. Dietrich was chosen over the other candidates in a 3-1 vote.
State law allows the municipality to charge for the labor in fulfilling a FOIA request. Meshkin estimated the work would take him 3 hours for a total cost of $210. It actually took 2.5 hours for a total of $175.
“This was a very complex FOIA to respond to,” Meshkin said. No lower-paid staff member was qualified to complete the request and hiring a tech firm to sort through the emails would be more expensive.
Smithers, who did not attend the meeting, said in the written appeal that Meshkin “appears to be discouraging FOIA requests” with the fee.
Attorney John Weiss, filling in for attorney Ron Bultje of the law firm Dickinson Wright, said the township was following the statute. Appeals such as this are rare, he said.
The township board had three options: Waive the fee, reduce the fee or uphold the fee. Because Meshkin’s labor time was less than estimated, the board approved the reduction to $175.
Smithers has 48 days to pay the fee to get the information, according to Weiss. If Smithers does not pay, the information will not be released.
To find the FOIA documents on the townships website, visit www.laketowntwp.org, scroll down on the right column to “Ordinances & Legal Notices” and scroll to “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).” Choose the appropriate form.