Library trustees cover the cost of $680 FOIA report

Farmington Community Library trustees on Thursday agreed to cover the cost of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that came with a hefty price tag.

Board president Jim White first proposed covering the $680 fee for raw data from a survey conducted this year by Pepper Consulting. Circulated over the summer, it was part of an assessment designed to help trustees with strategic planning.

Cynthia Pepper presented an overview of results in September. Farmington Voice and a representative from Restore the Farmington Community Library, a grassroots organization formed after the furlough of most staff members, have each requested copies of the data.

Director Riti Grover attributed the $680 cost to having an attorney redact personal information shared by some respondents.

Setting a precedent

Trustee Danette Duron-Willner said that releasing the data could lead to additional feedback from the community.

“In the future, I think we should expect that data … shouldn’t have to fall into this quagmire of a FOIA request,” she said. “I agree with covering the cost of this particular request, but I don’t want this viewed as us paying for future FOIA requests.”

While the cost is “relatively minor”, trustee Bob Hahn said he was more concerned about setting a precedent. “It’s a possibility that this is a waiver that creates a slippery slope.”

Trustee Bill Largent said that Grover had been dealing with a large number of FOIA requests, many of which were “nuisance suits that were designed to tie us down and cost us money.”

“I am not opposed in this particular case,” he said. “We don’t want to send the message that whatever you want, you can have it.”

FOIAs are ‘a symptom of a problem’

“We are in the business of providing information to the community,” White said. “I think it’s literally the least we can do right now is to release this information back to the community and take care of the fee to do that.”

Trustee Michele Kelly said the onus was on the consulting firm to ensure personal data wasn’t collected. “That could have been prevented with a better tool.”

Acknowledging that FOIA requests have been problematic, Duron-Willner said, “My sense of it has always been that FOIAs are not a problem, they’re a symptom of a problem. Transparency proactively… not always, but oftentimes prevents that kind of expenditure of resources.”

Listen to the meeting here:

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