In the last few months, I've been dealing with some laughably outrageous fees levied by the city for access to information requests.
One is for $5,440 for some rec centre data my excellent former colleague Jen Skerrit originally asked for in January. You know what else the Free Press could get for $5,440? Almost an entire summer intern.
Anyway, Jen seriously scaled back her request, asking for data from just one year instead of three. The new fee came in at $1,960. Jen asked for a fee waiver. No dice. We finally, nine months later, got some data, but it was a fraction of our original request.
Then, as part of this project, I asked for the database of inspection orders issued against rooming houses since 2008. The city said it would cost $6,480. I tried negotiating but could only get it down to $2,210.40. Remember, this doesn't involve rifling through boxes of old papers and spending hours photocopying. This is a database, so it's clicks and maybe some coding. By this time, the stories on rooming houses had already run, and I gave up.
I could live with $910 if the city was actually giving us what we wanted - the names of each dog and the first three digits of its owner's postal code. (Given recent experience with FOI requests, we didn't overreach. Other cities with nearly word-for-word the same FOI legislation as Manitoba's, have released the full postal code associated with each licence. We asked for just half the postal code, hoping for a fulsome and quick response from the city. We are so naive.)
Instead, the city is refusing to release the information, essentially arguing that dogs come with privacy rights. We could pay $910 for information that is essentially meaningless. Or, we can add it to the pile of appeals we've got on the go with the Manitoba Ombudsman.
This, at a time when the city has a committee ostensibly studying the concept of open data, and after some councillors have called for proper, modern open data policies.