Ferndale 115 News Online FOIA Fundraiser

Ferndale 115 News Online FOIA Fundraiser

(C. Proxmire, Dec. 10, 2012)

As many readers know, The Ferndale 115 News recently shared details of a controversial arrangement between Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier, and his own personal consulting company called ICE.  The article clarified concerns residents had over the lucrative side business, and brought to light questions over the unique sub-contracting with ICE that allowed un-tracked school resources to be put towards Meier’s personal business.  The business gives support to charter schools by working with a group called Michigan Future.  The public concern over conflicts of interest led Meier to unexpectedly cancel the contract rather than allow it to continue under the scrutiny of the newly elected school board members who will take office in January. Meier still may profit from outside consulting, but as of Jan. 1st School District employees will not be using their time during the school day to help him with it.

The Ferndale 115 News has requested public documents pertaining to this contract.  We filed a FOIA request in November for proof of when the contract was cancelled, as well as other documents that could shed more light into this unusual situation.

Ferndale Schools first responded with an extension on the request.  And now they are demanding payment of $53.80 before they will release the 92 pages worth of records.  The records should have been sent to us by Dec. 4, however they are holding them until we are able to pay.

According to Freedom of Information Act laws, the District is allowed to charge for the costs associated with processing a FOIA request.  They are also allowed to waive the fee if the documents being requested further the public interest.  We have requested a waiver, which has thus far not been responded to.

The Ferndale 115 News is a fledgling media company which has not yet been profitable.  As the publisher I have been living below the poverty line for the past three years as I have worked to build up this business.  While $53.80 may not seem like a lot of money to an institution that has the highest paid Superintendent in Oakland County, it is an insurmountable sum for someone living on less than $1,000 a month.

Additionally, these fees are more than the industry standard and actual costs.  The School District is asking 15 cents a page, although the documents have been requested digitally and have no physical printing costs.  On top of that they are asking $20 an hour to retrieve the documents, and claim that it is a two hour job.

In comparison, a bill that is pending in the state legislature is seeking to eliminate egregiously large fees for the sharing of public information.  House Bill 5879 intends to standardize costs associated with FOIA requests so that large fees are not a barrier to public knowledge.  The bill would limit charges to 10 cents per page, and hourly fees would be limited to the cost of the wages of the lowest paid person able to retrieve the information.  The documents Ferndale 115 News has requested are in the hands of School Board Members Keith Warnick and Chuck Moeser, who are not paid employees at all, rather elected officials who receive no hourly wage for their service. While this law has not yet passed in the legislature, it is based on industry standards and prices that are fair and ethical.  We urge anyone who has an interest in keeping public information accessible to contact your State Representatives and ask them to support HB 5879 so that this type of situation is less problematic in the future.

Without the law in place yet, we cannot compel the School District to be fair in their pricing.  Nor can they be forced to give the exemption.

So, in order to raise money for these public documents, The Ferndale 115 News is asking readers to step up and help with this expense.  We have a Reader Support Program though which readers can buy a $15 Thank You ad.  Anyone who contributes $15 or more through our PayPal site gets a one-of-a-kind ad thanking them for their support.

We’d like to raise enough money to cover the cost of this FOIA request.  Any additional funds raised will help The Ferndale 115 News with other expenses, particularly our business filing fees, hosting costs, and taxes for the year.

Since it is the season of giving, we hope that members of the community will step up and help us raise money for these expenses.  Please purchase a Thank You ad (or multiple thank you ads) through the PayPal link below.  Ads will be published over the next couple of weeks, spread out among our stories.  They will also be featured on our Facebook Page, and on our Thank You Ad collage page at http://oaklandcounty115.com/reader-support/.

You may also contact your School Board representatives and ask them to support giving the Ferndale 115 News an exemption so that we may continue our work on this important topic, without finances being a barrier.

Below there are two options, one allows for a one-time ad purchase. The second signs you up for a monthly $15 contribution if you would like to provide on-going support for this news site.  Anyone with a credit or debit card can use these links.  Or you can mail a check to Ferndale 115 News, PO Box 20293, Ferndale, MI 48220.  Thank you for your support!

UPDATE:  Thanks to our generous readers, we have raised enough for this FOIA request.  However, we still have plenty of expenses and a need for community support.  Please continue to show solidarity and help us keep this project growing by getting your own personalized Thank You Ad!

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