North Andover School Superintendent Christopher Hottel handed The Valley Patriot a bill for $7,099 to fill a freedom of information request last month.
The Valley Patriot had requested copies of all emails, sent and received by members of the school committee and the superintendent covering a 30 day period just prior to and after the Special Town Meeting on proposed the meals tax.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, public documents must be handed over within ten days of the request and cost cannot be used as a prohibition for access to public documents.
Superintendent Hottle, who already makes more than $170,000 a year from the North Andover taxpayers billed the Valley Patriot $6,130 for his time to personally go through each and every email to make sure no information was being revealed about specific student, current lawsuits and other information not covered under Freedom of Information.
Hottle also tried to charge the Valley Patriot $519 for the time it would take a computer administrator to retrieve the emails from the school department server. The School Administrator’s name was not listed on the bill but his yearly salary was listed at $90,000.
Claiming that he feared the emails we would obtain would end up getting forwarded out again over the internet Hottel said he didn’t want to supply the emails electronically, (on a disk or usb port) giving him the leeway to charge the Valley Patriot $450 to print out 4,500 emails each on a separate piece of paper.
“This is clearly a violation of the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law. It would take a team of people ten days or more to sort through 4,500 emails printed on paper,” said Valley Patriot publisher Tom Duggan. Duggan says that doing a quick computer search for certain key words like “meals tax” and Special Town Meeting” would allow the emails to be sorted and the information compiled in less than two days.
“And that is why they don’t want me to have anything electronically,” Duggan continued.
“It’s clear that there is obstruction going on here and it’s kind of an insult to my intelligence. It makes me more suspicious than was when I initially requested this first batch of emails.”
Duggan would not say specifically what it is he expects to find in the emails but said that the Valley Patriot does not expect to pay the $7,099 bill.
“We already pay the superintendent $190,000 a year to deal with public relations. That’s his job and that is what we pay him for. And yet, now he wants me to pay him another $6,000 for his time to do the job we are already paying him to do? He really thinks it’s justified to do the same thing with a $90,000 computer tech who is already being paid by the taxpayers. So in essence Superintendent Hottle wants to use a combined resource of TWO employees worth $260,000 a year to produce an electronic copy of 30 days of public emails.”
The Valley Patriot resubmitted the email request after consulting with legal counsel and several government officials and intend to have a report in the January edition.