It’s important to set the record straight about the lawsuit regarding open records requests brought against Johnson County Community College by the Student Press Law Center and a former student. There has been a great deal of misinformation, whether through inaccurate statements or misunderstanding of computer backup systems.
To begin with, the suit against the college was not “settled.” Rather, it was voluntarily dismissed by the SPLC. The college and the SPLC reached an agreement whereby the college would provide emails that were easily accessible and pulled from a shorter time range than asked for in the original request. Archived emails were not accessed, and college counsel reviewed and redacted emails to remove protected information as permitted by Kansas statute. The total amount paid to the college for this was $450.
The initial request was far larger in both size and scope, involving several months of emails from current and former employees. The college had a duty to protect its employees from indiscriminate requests for their emails, which would have entailed advice from legal counsel as well as staff time to retrieve archived messages. Much of the misinformation involved the technical work that would have been necessary to restore email messages from backup tapes in order to satisfy the original request. Email retention depends on a number of sources. You can look at the desktop, but if the message is not save there, it would have required significant time and expense from the Information Services branch, and potentially outside vendors, to restore the email messages from backup tapes. This is not a quick and easy process, which is why the original estimate was more than $24,000.
However, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the parties were able to discuss these technology challenges and the legitimate rational for the college’s earlier cost estimates and were successful in narrowing the scope of the open records request to more readily accessible information. Once the college fully complied with the modified request, there was no need for the plaintiffs to proceed with the litigation, resulting in their agreement to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit. At no time did the college refuse to provide any requested information.
The Kansas Open Records Act allows the college to charge reasonable fees, not exceeding the actual cost, for access to records, copies of records, and staff time for processing a request. The fees listed by the college were equal to the actual cost of furnishing copies, including the cost of staff time required to make copies or supervise the copying. Fees for providing access to computer records include the cost of computer services, including the staff time required. Access or inspection costs are based on hourly rates of the individuals involved.
The college has no reason to change its procedures for open records act requests, which comply with state law. However, we are in the process of reviewing our communication to more specifically explain our methods for accessing fees for records requests.
The college is pleased by the positive resolution to this situation.
Dr. Joseph M. Sopcich
Executive Vice President, Administrative Services