By MEL MARTIN
GRAEME Felton has no intention of paying the $306 Coffs Harbour City Council says he owes them, and he is furious they even consider charging him.
"I was trying to obtain some information from council under the Local Government Act access to information section (S12)," Mr Felton said.
"They rang me to say the documents were available for collection, but that they would charge me for 3.5 hours."
And that's as far as it got, because Mr Felton is not prepared to pay the fee, and council is not prepared to give him the information without the fee paid.
For access to information under the Local Government Act, Coffs Harbour City Council charges $87.50 per hour after a free hour for searching and assistance and a free hour for access to information.
Mr Felton says that charge is illegal, as the Department of Local Government states that while charging a reasonable photocopying fee is fine, charging a retrieval fee is 'considered to be both unlawful and inappropriate'.
But the department also states this rule doesn't apply to documents which are not the current or immediately preceding versions and are not reasonably accessible.
And what is reasonable is the sticking point.
"What we're doing is not unlawful and complies with S12," council director of corporate business Kyme Lavelle said.
"We believe two hours is enough to research information that is publicly available.
"Generally the information is readily available and we can provide most access to information applications free of charge.
"But there are some cases which we consider are not reasonable. Some information may not be easily identified, and there are applications which require a number of files or are very complex or very broad."
But Mr Felton says the Act is still clear and has put in a formal complaint to the Department of Local Government.