Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Troubling Trend...

From the Fort Wayne, Ind., Journal Gazette comes news of a troubling trend in FOI...for-profit records"

Allen County officials are setting a dangerous precedent by allowing a third-party vendor to profit by charging for public information that was previously available for free on the county’s Web site.

As Amanda Iacone’s Thursday story explained, Allen County Treasurer Bob Lee – without input from the public or, apparently, many other county officials who deal with property records – contracted with a vendor to host a property tax records database. The database allows citizens to look up their property tax bill – and those of any other county property owner – and pay the bill online.

The process allowed the treasurer’s office to contract out the timely and costly process of collecting credit card payments. But the contract also permitted the vendor to set a limit preventing any single person or entity from looking up more than 15 bills without cost. After fielding complaints – and calls to the treasurer’s office seeking information that was previously online – the limit was raised to 30.

Yes, it’s true that many of the entities seeking more than 30 records are likely mortgage, title or other commercial firms wanting the land information for business reasons. But they have as much right to public information as any citizens. And homeowners might want to compare their property tax bills with everyone else in their neighborhood or subdivision. Because all of these records are public, people are free to examine them by going to the treasurer’s office and asking to see each and every record. The treasurer’s office must comply.

This is a privatization scheme worth keeping a close eye on...


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