Appeal Filed in Response to The Rapid Bus System’s Vindictive Freedom of Information Act Reply

The Rapid’s FOIA Bomb

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). This appeal is a result of The Rapid’s vindictive and illegal response to Steinport’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request relating to The Rapid’s operations and expenses.

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 was rejected by voters in 2009. The original FOIA letter requested a waiver of fees because the information asked for was in the public’s interest and the public has a right to know how their money is spent before they are asked for a tax increase. State law provides for a waiver of such fees if the disclosure is in the public interest. The Rapid is requesting a 31% property tax increase on May 3 with much of the new tax increase going to fund the failed Silver Line bus route.

The Rapid denied the fee waiver request for no valid reason and proceeded to waste dozens of hours of staff time and nearly 1,700 pages of printouts. The resulting bill was for $450, just for asking for important information on how The Rapid operates.

“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.”

The Rapid was judged the least transparent government entity in Kent County after a survey by KCFFR showed how little 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.

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,” said Steinport.

For much more detail, read the full 21 page appeal here.

The appeal is also available online, posted on the Scribd web site.