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What are they hiding? Henderson wants to charge more for public records

Updated April 13, 2024 - 7:11 pm

Henderson wants to charge you more for public records — a move experts say violates state law.

Taxpayers already fund the salaries, benefits and pensions for staff, but they will now have to pay extra to see how the city — including its police department — does its job.

City’s records committee will vote on the new public records fees at its next meeting on April 17.

Under the proposed process, the public will pay the hourly rate of the person researching each request that takes more than 30 minutes to complete. If the request is deemed extraordinary, the city may ask for a 50 percent deposit.

Benjamin Lipman, the Review-Journal’s chief legal officer, said governmental entities are only allowed to charge for the costs of the materials, like paper or postage, not the salary and wages of employees used to respond to the request.

“It is disappointing to see them try to charge the public amounts that the law does not allow just to access records that belong to the public,” Lipman said.

These fees can amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars, according to First Amendment Coalition legal director David Loy.

“That is absolutely a financial barrier to access public records,” Loy said.

City updates fees

The city’s public information officer Madeleine Skains said in a statement that the city’s records fee schedule, which has been in place since 2017, is amended occasionally to make sure that work done fulfilling a request does not exceed the cost to provide the record.

Fees may be waived for residents requesting their own records, like building or site plans.

“The City of Henderson remains committed to transparency and will work with requestors to help narrow their search to ensure they receive the exact documents they request efficiently at minimal to no cost,” Skains wrote.

Mayor Michelle Romero and Councilmen Dan Shaw and Dan Stewart did not return requests for comment. Councilman Jim Seebock referred a reporter to Skains, and Councilwoman Carrie Cox said she needed to learn more before commenting.

Currently, Henderson police body camera footage is free for the first 10 hours of work its employees spend preparing video for release, and the city charges no more than $35 for each additional hour of work.

The city’s public records policy touts itself as one that encourages transparency and complies with state and federal laws. However, public records have shown officials acting in a way that some say is not transparent.

In August, Henderson public information officer Sgt. Daniel Medrano promised officers that his team would “vet each news reporter” to “make sure your interview is a positive one and makes your unit and the department look good,” according to an email obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The police union and city sued the Review-Journal in an attempt to get the paper to take down or modify a video obtained from the jail, but the city dropped out of the case and paid a settlement to the newspaper. The union’s case is ongoing.

The new proposed records fees came after union officials called for more vetting when it comes to releasing records.

Henderson Police Chief Hollie Chadwick has refused to do an interview with the Review-Journal despite its coverage of her leadership. That includes reports that she cleared the disciplinary record of a police detective accused of racism and ignored recommendations to fire officers who were found to have conspired to cover up a suspected DUI car wreck involving an off-duty co-worker.

Those stories wouldn’t have come to light without the state’s strong public records law.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

An earlier version of this story listed the wrong city body that will vote on the records changes and date of the vote.

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