PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners continue to deliberate a proposed Public Records Act compliance policy and ordinance for public records costs.
No decision was made at Monday’s meeting as the commissioners directed staff to provide more data so an analysis of the number of public records requests and number of pages that are typically part of a request can be completed.
The issue will be discussed at the commissioners’ meeting May 14.
The state Public Records Act requires agencies to publish rules to provide public access to records.
County Administrator Philip Morley said the issue is about producing paper copies.
“It’s not about covering the costs of doing research. It’s just about the production side of things. It’s an unfunded mandate,” said Morley.
Commissioners want to assess how much staff time it takes to fulfill requests and what the cost of that time should be.
Commissioner Kathleen Kler said for larger requests that “it isn’t worth it. It is a token amount. It won’t cover the costs.”
“We believe in open government and transparency and we’re happy to abide by it,” said Commissioner Kate Dean.
“I think running around looking for nickles and dimes and quarters in this day and age is not necessarily worth that as an official revenue source.”
“We run into problems because it’s abused,” Dean said. “There are people who want to disrupt government so they put in frivolous requests that cause us to lose time and money. The public records law is an unfunded mandate from the government, so we eat all of that cost.”
Charging money for public records wasn’t allowed until the Public Records Act was revised last year.
“We are trying to strike a balance in making those records really accessible but disincentivising the requests because we are afraid that people will be putting in requests continually under the minimum dollar value again just to make our job difficult,” said Dean.
“We don’t want to regulate to the bad apples. We want to be fair and fiscally responsible. We want to be accessible.”
The cost schedule that had been proposed allowed for 15 cents per copy per page up to 8.5 inches by 14 inches, or 10 cents per page for scanned documents or use of the agency’s equipment for scanning. Records uploading to email or a cloud-based storage data service or other means of electronic delivery would cost five cents for each of four files or attachments.
Records transmitted electronically would cost 10 cents per gigabyte.
Additional costs would be assessed for digital storage media or devices, any envelope or container used to mail copies, postage or delivery charges and photocopies larger that 8.5 inches by 14 inches.
There would be no costs for inspection of records, or downloading or online access to records that are regularly posted on the commissioners’ website.
Monday’s commissioners meeting was set to be broadcast though the new live system, AV Capture All. However, the system stopped working about 10 minutes into public comments. Staff and the company were working to get it back online, which did not happen by the end of the meeting.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].