Jul 1, 2022 - News

FOIA Friday: Olympia parking maze

Illustration of an unlocked padlock made out of a manila folder.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

👋 We're back with our regularly scheduled public records feature. This week, we're seeking city emails to shed light on mysterious parking tickets issued by one of Detroit's biggest developers.

How it started: Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer wrote in March about a theatergoer who paid $20 for a spot in Olympia Development's parking lot, only to find a $50 ticket on his truck after the show.

Why it matters: The report raised two crucial questions about parking in the city:

  • Does a private company — in this case, the Ilitch real estate arm — have authority to issue parking tickets and collect fees?
  • And did any government official grant that authority to Olympia?

Driving the news: To find answers, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request on May 13 for six weeks' worth of emails including keywords such as "parking" and "Olympia" for four city officials.

  • The city responded by saying it would take a whopping $17,664 and two years to get the records.

How it works: The city is required to either grant or deny requests in up to 15 business days with the required fees, which are reduced if the response is late.

  • The city's response on June 16 was eight days past due, which means we got a 40% discount — 5% for each day late up to 50%.
  • Without the discount it would have cost $29,440 for 52,000 pages of emails and attachments.

What's next: We amended our FOIA request and asked for more narrow information about the parking department to reduce cost.

  • These are now being treated as two new requests, so it could take several more weeks before we hear back from the city.

Of note: An Olympia spokesperson tells Axios the company has "paused" the ticketing practice while it evaluates discouraging unauthorized parking at its lots.

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