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AGENCY CONFUSES CITIZEN WITH NEW MEDIA REPORTER

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is blocking a private citizen’s request for information on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge in Charleston, S.C. – confusing the man with a reporter for a new media outlet.

Specifically, this outlet …

Last week, Charleston resident Jock Stender sent an email to Haley’s administration under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesting “any document the Dept. of Transportation has concerning the issue of ‘air draft’ that was part of the planning, scoping, or budgeting, of the (Ravenel) bridge.”

Stender sent his FOIA request to Haley on the basis of a pair of articles published on this website (HERE and HERE). He reached out to Haley’s office after receiving no response from the SCDOT.

What happened next?

Well, Stender got a form letter back from SCDOT staffer Janet Tucker advising him that he would be billed “an hourly rate of $15 for each and every SCDOT employee involved in researching and reproducing documents in response to a request, plus 10¢ per page for each page reproduced, plus the cost of any materials such as CD’s or USB drives used to furnish the documents to you.”

What? That’s how state agencies keep information hidden, people … by charging them for information they’ve already paid for with their tax dollars.

Anyway, Stender responded with a request that the SCDOT waive its fees “in view of the broad level of citizen interest in this subject.”

Three days later, his request was rejected … for a curious reason.

“We respectfully decline your request for a waiver of fees,” Tucker wrote to Stender. “The FOI Act allows SCDOT to waive such costs where it determines that the waiver is ‘in the public interest because furnishing the information can be considered as primarily benefitting the general public.’ While we recognize that your media organization or online publication seeks to serve the public interest by providing information you believe to be newsworthy or important, we do not believe it is appropriate for the State to underwrite the cost of the production of this information to you because you are able to recoup your cost of doing business by the sale of advertising, donations and other methods.”

Ha!

Stender’s response?

“I made my FOIA request as a citizen to learn and inform the public about the Ravenel Bridge, which already cost us taxpayers over $1 billion,” he wrote. “I am not in the news, publishing, TV, radio, internet, broadcasting or advertising business. I do not own FitsNews and have never met its owners. Your statement that ‘you are able to recoup your cost of doing business by the sale of advertising, donations and other methods’ is preposterous. I assume that the SCDOT with its large staff and budget has something to hide about my simple request.”

Ya think?

Gotta love the “most transparent administration in South Carolina history …

Freedom of information means that government documents must be freely available to the public. Otherwise there’s no “freedom.” Charging taxpayers for documents they’ve already paid to create is shameful … and corrupt.

Also, the last time we checked a member of the media and a private citizen were one in the same …