NILES, Mich. — Brandywine Schools Superintendent Travis Walker sent REAL News Michiana a bill for nearly $10,000 to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request that included many of his emails. The request is seeking emails from Walker and board members regarding his contract and salary and the board’s discussions surrounding a policy to protect children from being exposed to pornographic material in school libraries. The request also seeks emails that included threats and disparaging remarks.
Walker has been the Superintendent of Brandywine schools since July of last year. In November, a new conservative board was elected. Prior to those new board members taking office, the old liberal-leaning board extended Walker’s contract to 2027, despite only being on the job for 6 months.
While the law in the state of Michigan allows public entities to charge fees for records, Walker’s outrageous invoice is a tactic used by many corrupt officials in the state to constructively deny records by making them too expensive to obtain.
The request was made by AP and Murrow award-winning RNM journalist Clifton French. In his nearly 20-years of reporting and filing FOIA requests, he has never received an invoice amounting to thousands of dollars.
“I make at least a dozen FOIA requests every week. It’s my job.” French said. “The most I’ve been charge for a request is approximately $250 for thousands of pages of documents and that was eventually waived down to $25.”
Despite RNM providing keywords and a narrow timeframe for his search, Walker claimed the request for records was “overly broad,” resulting in the outrageous invoice. Walker is also attempting to charge RNM for paper, despite the records all being in a digital format.
“This is parody, correct?” RNM responded to Walker in an email after receiving the invoice.
“This is the result of the overly broad request that will require district officials to review over 7,000 pages of emails to ensure that we are responsive to the request and that there isn’t information that needs to be redacted, and to redact information that needs to be redacted. For example, there may be personally identifiable information regarding students in emails to/from staff and parents about the library policies.” Walker responded.
“7,000 pages of emails between school board members regarding your book policy and your salary?” RNM responded. “I literally gave you keywords to use in your search. You’re lying.”
The charge can be waived by the Board of School Trustees. RNM has already submitted a request to all of the board members to have the issue addressed.
“This ridiculous charge for fees is nothing more than a constructive way of denying a request for public records by a journalist who is seeking to do his job by holding public officials accountable. These requests involve information from the Superintendent himself who is now the person seeking nearly $10,000. At most, this is an attempt by a public official to prevent his own wrongful or embarrassing actions from coming to light.” RNM wrote in its request for a fee waiver. “These records and the information contained within are of vital public interests to several ongoing issues within the school district and are not meant for personal use or financial gain. The school district is a taxpayer funded entity that has a responsibility of transparency to the public. I am formally requesting the fees be waived in their entirety.”
RNM also requested comments from the Superintendent and board members for this story. We never received a response.
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