CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Highway Patrol records office is estimating that a public records request from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle concerning troopers deployed to the Dakota Access Pipeline protest area could cost $1,800 in labor and fees to complete.
The WTE submitted a written records request under the Wyoming Public Records Act on Oct. 31, asking for any and all documents, including email communication between the Highway Patrol and Gov. Matt Mead’s office, regarding the deployment of state troopers to North Dakota.
Specifically, the request asked for documents authorizing the deployment, compensation for the troopers and the types of equipment they were sent with.
On Nov. 14, Highway Patrol records and data management specialist Kim McLees sent an email response with two of the requested documents. Additionally, she said that the request for copies of the emails would be “very timely and costly” due to a specific keyword search.
Citing a recent “similar request,” she said that the department was estimating 40 to 60 hours of labor time at $30 per hour (minus the first hour), equaling approximately $1,800 of labor costs and fees. She also estimated that it would take several weeks to complete the request after specific keywords were given to her department.
In a follow-up email, McLees said that redaction of the documents for “personnel issues” and “security concerns” would likely take up most of the labor time. She stressed that the 40 to 60 hours was simply an estimate and that this was one of the first such requests the Highway Patrol has dealt with.
An identical information request was made through Mead’s office Oct. 31 as well. The requested document was mailed to the WTE on Nov. 4 at no charge.
By email, Richard Barrett, special counsel to the governor, said that request was expedited and taken out of order “based on the limited extent and scope of the request and our ability to respond on an expedited basis.”
Wyoming Press Association Executive Director Jim Angell said it is his understanding of the state law surrounding public documents that the Highway Patrol can’t charge for access. That said, new rules from the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information do allow for this practice in state services.
He said the estimated cost presented here was a huge barrier to the average person looking to see documents like this.
“I will cut them some slack because they have apparently never had to comply with a request like this before,” he said about the cost. “But it’s an obstacle. Whether intentional or not, it’s an obstacle.”
Angell went on to say that the Highway Patrol is essentially asking the newspaper to put the money upfront to see what the documents say and how long it will actually take. He said this issue, and others like it under the rules from the Department of Administration and Information, likely wouldn’t be resolved until the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision is received in the case between the WTE and Laramie County School District 1 relating to emails sent between board members.
“As we see these rules picked up by more agencies, expect to see more bills from $500 and up to look at documents the people already own,” he said. “How many people will pursue their right to watch government work when faced with an $1,800 bill?”