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Though the City Council rejected two proposals to add fees for public records earlier this week, the public may still be required to pay one of them.

That’s possible because the council vote didn’t affect Mayor Jerry Sanders’ broad authority to charge for copies of public records, said a spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

The council dismissed proposals that would’ve cemented fees for computer data and scanned documents. But that action didn’t stop the mayor from charging those kinds of fees on a case-by-case basis, which is what currently happens.

The mayor had proposed charging 70 cents per minute for copying data and 25 cents per page for scanning documents into digital copies. The council rejected both, arguing the fees would discourage public participation in government and chill independent oversight by news media and other watchdogs.

The actual impact of the council vote on the mayor’s authority had been unclear until Goldsmith’s spokesman, Jon Heller, weighed in Thursday. In an email, he said the vote had essentially maintained the status quo.

Before the vote, the city had been charging for copies of data on a case-by-case basis. The city often provided data for free, but in some instances, it charged an hourly rate based on the salary of the employee who copied the data.

Reached Tuesday, mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said officials were still reviewing what the city could legally charge for public records. He said they didn’t expect to charge per page for scanned documents, but some type of fee for data would likely continue.

By denying Sanders’ proposals, the council did not prohibit the fees. Instead, it continued to require the city to legally justify and calculate fees in each instance it wishes to charge them. That can mean more or less than 70 cents per minute for copying data, depending on the case.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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