McKinney is Texas's worst-ranked city for open records requests, and says that it will have to hire a programmer to write entirely new code to search its old, "unsearchable" email system for the emails of Officer Eric Casebolt, who made headlines by tackling a young black girl in a bikini at a pool party and threatening her with his gun.
Muckrock and Gawker filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the city, which replied that it would take over 2,200 programmer-hours to write a custom search-tool to retrieve emails from the system it used until March 1, 2014. This reeks of bullshit.
The next step is to complain to the State Attorney General.
Gawker's options here are pretty limited. It can either limit its request to post-March 2014 emails as suggested by the city's lawyers (pretty much useless if seeking a full representation of Eric Casebolt's career) or it can petition the state attorney general to take a look at the city's claims.
A person who believes the person has been overcharged for being provided with a copy of public information may complain to the attorney general in writing of the alleged overcharge, setting forth the reasons why the person believes the charges are excessive. The attorney general shall review the complaint and make a determination in writing as to the appropriate charge for providing the copy of the requested information.
This particular avenue of recourse has been used frequently in the past. A 2012 examination of Texas open records requests by the Center for Public Integrity found McKinney ranked highest in the state in the number of fee complaints to the state attorney general (per 100,000 residents). Not all of these were fee-related, but the ratio of referred requests suggests the local government is more reluctant to turn over responsive documents than its neighbors. A spokeswoman for the city notes in the article that requests related to the police department are treated with "an overabundance of caution." This response to Gawker, however, seems not so much cautious as confrontational -- a "shut up and go away" response in the form of a thoroughly ridiculous $79,000 price tag.
I have reached out to the city employees listed in the letter to Gawker, asking for details on the current and pre-2014 email systems, as well as any methods used by city employees to access older emails. I'm not expecting an answer, but if one should materialize, it will be passed on.