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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

To get public records, fire union rep charged top dollar by city



ST. PETERSBURG -- Will Newton is no ordinary city employee.

For one, he's president of the local fire union.

Secondly, he's the brother of Wengay Newton, who is a city council member.

But even with these connections Newton is not pleased with how he's being treated at City Hall. He filed a  request seeking the names of firefighters who are classified as emergency medical technicians. It's research he's doing for the upcoming collective bargaining this summer.

He was notified that he would be charged $91.84 for the information, which included the staff time to retrieve it. Newton said he was given three pages, and he still didn't have the information he requested.

He asked the city clerk, Eva Andujar, who retrieved the information for him, and she said it was Steven Knight, division chief of rescue.

"I don't have a problem with the city charging for records," Newton said. "But why do they have to get one of the highest paid employees to do what's actually clerical work? This is a slap in my face. They're trying to hit my pocket by having the most expensive person pull the records."

Newton said the request was a relatively simple one and shouldn't have taken two hours.

"They're slowing (the union) down as much as possible," he said.

Fire Chief James Large said Newton never called him with his complaint.

"I guess he's trying to fight his battles in the media," Large said. "I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised."

Large said normally, Knight wouldn't have gotten the records for Newton. But he said clerical staff was busy and that Knight "knew where to go." It took as long as it did because the information was in different places and other employees had to be consulted.

"(Knight) wouldn't have charged for two hours if he didn't take two hours," Large said.

Large said Newton and the union make more public records requests than anyone else, and it's taxing his staff.

"These requests are very time consuming," Large said.

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:30pm]


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