RJ sues to gain access to public records withheld by city of Henderson

Attorneys for the Las Vegas Review-Journal filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Henderson demanding access to documents that detail the work of a communications consultant.

The lawsuit alleges that the public records, which the Review-Journal requested Oct. 4 under the state’s public records law, have been unjustifiably withheld and that the city is charging illegal fees for the collection and review of the documents.

The documents pertain to Trosper Communications — a communications firm in Henderson — and its principal, Elizabeth Trosper, who in March was given a one-year, $30,000 contract with the city. Trosper also has provided assistance to the political campaigns of Henderson City Council members.

“The city of Henderson has long been less than forthcoming with the public about the public’s business,” said Keith Moyer, the Review-Journal’s editor-in-chief. “Why is the city spending tens of thousands of dollars on a communications consultant when taxpayers already fund a well-staffed communications office? The public deserves to know, and the Review-Journal won’t allow the city to defy the state’s public records law.”

Henderson spokesman David Cherry said Tuesday that city officials would not comment on the lawsuit now.

On Oct. 11, in its reply to the Review-Journal’s original request, the city indicated that it was “in the process of searching for and gathering responsive emails and other documents.” However, the city said the request would take up to three weeks, citing the need to review, for “privilege and confidentiality,” 5,566 emails that matched the newspaper’s search criteria.

In stating that it would need additional time, the city also demanded payment of almost $6,000 to continue its review, according to the lawsuit. The city calculated this rate by averaging the $78 hourly rate of two assistant city attorneys who would undertake the review, and multiplying that rate by the 74 hours they estimated it would take to review the documents.

The response further stated that the city would not continue searching for responsive documents and reviewing them for privilege without payment and demanded a deposit of $2,893.

“The city of Henderson is trying to charge the paper an impermissible and exorbitant fee — almost $6,000 — just to respond to a lawful public records request,” Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said. “The city hasn’t even agreed to produce documents, and the city expects the Review-Journal to pay the city’s lawyers to decide whether it will even hand documents over at all. The fee Henderson is demanding isn’t even permitted under Nevada law. The city has an obligation under law to respond to requests and shouldn’t be demanding a ransom to comply with its duties.”

The lawsuit, which was filed by McLetchie Shell LLC, said that even if the Nevada Public Records Act allowed for fees in this case, which it does not, the fee calculation used by Henderson is inconsistent with the statute on which it relies, which caps fees at 50 cents per page.

Furthermore, the lawsuit said the city has placed the newspaper in an “untenable position” as it has demanded a “huge” sum just to meaningfully respond to the request and may not even provide the Review-Journal with the documents it was seeking.

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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