Wednesday evening, a spokeswoman for McKinney, Texas, apologized to Gawker for sending a $79,000 bill to fulfill a Public Information Act request concerning a police officer who pointed his gun at a group of unarmed teenagers at a pool party.
“The number quoted to you as a cost estimate for your records request is not accurate,” communications manager Anna Clark wrote. “We sincerely apologize for the misinformation and the ensuing confusion, and we agree that the cost of more than $79,000 is at best implausible.”
On June 8, Gawker requested copies of various personnel records for former McKinney Police Department corporal Eric Casebolt as well as incident reports and 911 call tapes regarding the pool party incident and any emails sent or received by police department employees expressing concern about Casebolt’s conduct. On Monday, we got a letter from the city’s attorneys asking us to pony up $79,229.09 for the documents we asked for.
But last night, they took it back. Here’s the full email from Anna Clark:
The letter you received in response to your request was erroneous, and we apologize.
The number quoted to you as a cost estimate for your records request is not accurate. We sincerely apologize for the misinformation and the ensuing confusion, and we agree that the cost of more than $79,000 is at best implausible. The cost estimate was reached by mistake and should never have been communicated to you as a requestor for public records.
Please know we are working diligently to come to a reasonable and accurate estimate based on your request. While many requests regarding this incident, including yours, are voluminous, in no way would the city presume to charge such an exorbitant fee.
Again, we apologize for the inaccurate estimate. Please expect a revised letter from the attorney’s office with an updated cost estimate and accompanying details.
The vast majority of the charges concerned Gawker’s request for emails about Casebolt, who joined the McKinney PD in 2005. According to McKinney’s attorneys, the city’s emails from before March 1, 2014, are not searchable, and converting them to a searchable format would require 2,231 hours of work—over a full year on a 40-hour-per-week schedule—from a programmer working at $28.50 per hour.
Texas public information law allows governments to charge fees in order to recover the costs of collecting requested information, but it also includes a provision allowing those fees to be waived if the information is deemed to be in the “public interest.” Gawker’s initial request argued for a waiver of fees—the McKinney pool party was a major news story, and additional information about the officer involved is obviously newsworthy.
According to Clark, we’ll be receiving a new letter with an “updated cost estimate” soon. In the meantime, we’ve filed an amended request that excludes emails from before March 2014 in hopes of procuring information more quickly.