Far too often government officials at various levels seek ways to block the dissemination of public information by members of the press. Often that is most effectively done by creating a negative consequence for those seeking public records. In the case of new rules passed by the Baldwin County Commission last week, the politicians appear to be trying to price reporters out of doing stories.

Even though stewardship and dissemination of public records is part of the work conducted by public entities, and even though the Alabama Public Records Law states “Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute,” some public officials believe it is their right to charge outrageous fees on the time it takes employees to produce public records.

In this case, Baldwin commissioners voted to charge information seekers $225 an hour for anything that might require the involvement of the attorneys’ group used by the county. And the charges are made in intervals of 15 minutes. So, in other words, if we asked for records and someone wants to run it by legal first, we are now required to pay $56.25 to have some lawyer give his okey-doke.

Making matters worse, the commission also says any request taking more than one hour of staff time will require a down payment equivalent to that employee’s pay for completing the task. So that adds a time cost to the financial costs.

It is all reminiscent of a few years back when former Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood attempted to charge this newspaper $1,800 for three pieces of paper, simply because she’d decided that was a fair rate. It required us paying our own lawyer to make Ms. Wood follow the law. But no news outlet can litigate every record request.

Baldwin’s commissioners frequently talk a big game about transparency and integrity, but this move is clearly an attempt to keep reporters and private citizens away from public records. Their new rules are out of line with both state and federal standards.

The commissioners who voted for those changes have shown themselves to be no friends of transparency in government.

Acclaimed photojournalist/priest to speak at SHC
An internationally acclaimed Catholic priest who is a photographer and journalist will be speaking at Spring Hill College March 7.

The Rev. Donald Doll, S.J., will give this year’s Jesuit Heritage Lecture in the college’s Gautrelet Room at 7:30 that evening. Doll, who is a Jesuit priest, is known for his photojournalistic work with Native Americans. He has received a tremendous amount of professional recognition for that work, including a Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism.

Doll’s work has graced the pages of National Geographic magazine, as well as many others, and he has traveled the world capturing images of migrants and refugees in places such as Uganda, southern Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Doll has published two collections of his photos and a third publication has just come out.
His lecture March 7 is free of charge and open to all.