Today Jeff Steinport, co-founder of Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility (KCFFR) and manager of the group’s ITP Watch project, filed a Freedom of Information Act appeal with Don Lawless, the chairman of the Interurban Transit Partnership board (also known as The Rapid). Steinport was charged $450 for a basic FOIA request which he states is, “vindictive and malicious and an example of the Rapid’s contempt for its taxpayers.”
The original FOIA request from Steinport asked for information on the Rapid’s ridership on a per-route basis, the amount the Rapid spends with several companies, and more detail on the proposed Silver Line bus route, which is again before voters in the May 3rd election. The Rapid is requesting a 31% property tax increase on May 3 with much of the new tax increase going to fund the Silver Line bus route which voters rejected in 2009 in four of the six cities.
Steinport made a request for a fee waiver because he believed the information he sought was in the public’s interest especially in light of the upcoming millage request. The Rapid denied the fee waiver request and proceeded to send him nearly 1,700 pages of printouts and a bill for $450.
“All government agencies have a procedure where they notify the FOIA requester that the cost will be over $50, yet the Rapid did not do this, contrary to their own practices,” said Jeff Steinport. “In fact, The Rapid is sending a message to taxpayers that they’d better not ask how The Rapid spends their money, and if they do, The Rapid will slap them with a bill for hundreds of dollars just for asking.”
Steinport believes that he was specifically singled out by the Rapid because it was graded the least transparent government entity in Kent County after a survey by KCFFR showed how little information it made available online. The Rapid received a transparency score of “D-”, a result of virtually no financial or operational data being available to the public.
Said Steinport, “The appeal filed today demonstrates how The Rapid violates both the spirit and letter of state law and how The Rapid fears public disclosure of its spending and operations. Taxpayers in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, and Grandville need to ask themselves if a government agency which consistently misleads the public and shows contempt for taxpayers deserves more money.”
The entire Freedom of Information Act appeal and more detail on The Rapid’s operations are available on our ITP Watch web site at www.ITPWatch.org.