Stupidity is an unfunded mandate

I recently made a public records request to the city of Greenfield for Mayor William Martin's ethics disclosures. I sent the request by email, as I usually try to do since it's more efficient than snail mail.

The city quickly sent me a reply by certified mail. It cost them $6.73 worth of taxpayer money. And that doesn't even include the cost of the envelope, paper, and ink. Now I'm no mathematician, but I'm pretty sure $6.73 is more than $0. Maybe the city should have used email like I did.

But that's not all. The city told me in its letter that it had two pages of records responsive to my request, but did not actually provide copies. Instead, it asked me to send in a check to cover the cost of making copies. The price tag: 40 cents.

Again, I'm no expert here. But wouldn't it have been a little easier—not just for me, but for both parties—if the city had just scanned the two damn pages and emailed them to me free of charge? I've been asking numerous local governments for ethics disclosures for a story I'm working on, and that's what virtually every one did.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association, a lobbyist group that represents local government officials, has been complaining that if state lawmakers reduce the amount of money local governments can charge for records, it will cause them financial hardship and potentially force them to cut other services. If local officials are really worried about the cost of complying with public records requests, maybe they advise they each other not to do stupid shit like this.