Idaho Education News has already paid the University of Idaho $88.65 for a set of public records.
We haven’t received the records. On Friday, we received a second bill for the same documents — this time, in the amount of $326.15.
The U of I says both bills are legal. And the U of I doesn’t rule out billing us a third time.
At issue are records that we believe will tell an important part of the story about the U of I’s proposed University of Phoenix purchase — a controversial $685 million deal that could make or cost the U of I millions of dollars, and forge a partnership with a for-profit university with a troubled track record.
We have asked, twice, for invoices paid by the U of I and its affiliates, related to the Phoenix purchase. We submitted our original request on Dec. 22.
The U of I first billed the $88.65 to cover the cost of identifying and gathering the invoices. The U of I now says it needs an additional $326.15 to review and potentially redact the records.
In both cases, the U of I says the costs are estimates. If costs come in lower, the U of I promises to refund the difference. Or if the costs come in higher, the U of I says it will ask for more money.
In other words, the U of I isn’t ruling out charging us three times for the same set of public records. Not even when EdNews asked for assurance that the second bill would cover all costs.
“Simply put, this process, which is authorized under the law, ensures that taxpayers are not funding labor that goes solely to the benefit (of) individual requestors, such as you and your employer,” U of I senior associate general counsel said in a Wednesday email to EdNews.
State law allows agencies to bill for public records — for labor costs exceeding two hours of staff time. But the law doesn’t require agencies to seek payment, and many agencies don’t.
We also take issue with Klein’s insinuation that our records requests are self-serving. We have spent eight months pushing for details on the Phoenix purchase on behalf of our readership — and all Idahoans, who have a vested stake in this decision.
We are a public news source. And a well-read news source. Since last week, our stories on the trial that threatened to block the Phoenix purchase have been republished by the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press, the Lewiston Tribune, Boise State Public Radio, the Idaho Capital Sun and BoiseDev — and anyone else we might have missed along the way.
So, no, we’re not just doing this for kicks.
On Wednesday, we sent the U of I another $326.15. We’ll let you know what we get next — whether it’s a stack of public records, or another bill.