U of I delays additional public records requests

Days after sending a $2,400 bill for the release of public records, the University of Idaho is delaying a pair of followup Idaho Education News requests.

Here’s what EdNews is pursuing — and why.

The “Project Neptune” paper trail. EdNews has again requested documents containing the words “Project Neptune” — the U of I’s code name for the University of Phoenix. The documents could provide a behind-the-scenes look at the U of I’s bid to purchase Phoenix, a for-profit online behemoth serving 85,000 students. The U of I quietly worked to broker a deal for months. The State Board of Education approved the controversial $685 million deal in May.

EdNews has sought “Project Neptune” documents from Jan. 1 through June 30, from four U of I administrative offices. The U of I said it identified at least 4,000 documents that may fall under this request, including more than 2,000 emails. However, the U of I will not release these documents until EdNews pays $2,370.95 — saying the money would cover the costs of having an attorney review and redact the records.

In response, EdNews submitted a smaller request last week, focused solely on records within President C. Scott Green’s office. Even though the U of I identified these records already — in response to EdNews’ initial request — the university said Monday it will need 10 business days to respond to the smaller, followup request.

Under state law, public agencies must respond to records requests within three business days. However, agencies can extend the response time to 10 business days, “if it is determined by employees of the public agency that a longer period of time is needed to locate or retrieve the public records.”

During a recent open records workshop, sponsored by the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government, former deputy attorney general Brian Kane said a 10-day response is not justified when an agency receives a narrowed, followup records request.

Other public records invoices. EdNews also wants to know if its $2,400 invoice is a rarity, or standard practice.

EdNews has requested a list of all records requests filed with the U of I this year, and any other invoices the U of I has sent to parties seeking public records.

On Friday, the U of I said it needs 10 business days to compile these documents, and said it would respond by Dec. 21.

Public records law allows public agencies to bill for labor costs, if it takes more than two staff hours to fill a records request.

Agencies are not required to send out bills, however. The State Board of Education and Gov. Brad Little’s office have not billed EdNews for previous records request. In 2022, Boise State University sought more than $700 from EdNews for emails referring to political science professor Scott Yenor. Boise State later backtracked, and has not billed EdNews for subsequent requests.

State law does not allow agencies to impose a fee for records, if the party requesting the records can demonstrate that the documents are “likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the government.”

The U of I has a 2023-24 budget of $189.6 million, which comes largely from state tax dollars and student tuition and fees.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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