Port Angeles City Council to mull fees for public records

Meeting set for tonight on ordinance that would comply with new state law

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council will consider today amending fees for public records to comply with new state law.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.

The ordinance before the council spells out the fees the city will charge for providing copies of certain records.

No fee will be charged if the total cost is less than $5, according to the ordinance and current municipal code.

“If the fees don’t amount to $5 we don’t want to charge,” City Attorney Bill Bloor told the council at its Feb. 5 meeting.

“It doesn’t pay for our administration handling and things like that.

“We on staff, we really do make a strong effort to get people the records that they want,” Bloor added, “and in 95 percent or more of the cases — maybe 99 percent of the cases — these is no charge.”

Under the proposal, the maximum cost for photocopies of printed records or printed versions of electronic records would remain 15 cents per page.

Scanned records would cost 10 cents per page. Current code allows the city to charge up to 14 cent per scanned page.

Other costs

Other costs established by the ordinance include:

• Four electronic files or emailed attachments would be provided for 5 cents.

• Larger files would be transmitted at a cost of 10 cents per gigabyte.

• The city would charge the actual cost of digital storage media, and postage and handling.

The ordinance was pulled from the City Council’s consent agenda Feb. 5.

Bloor said the original version, which was recommended by the state Attorney General’s office and adopted by other cities, contained “ambiguities and discrepancies” in its language.

The current draft lists the specific charges for public records — the old draft referred to Revised Code of Washington — and includes the no-charge-for-public-records-under-$5 provision.

“There is no question about what those fees are, or what section of the state law we’re referring to,” Bloor said of the amended draft.

“It’s just the fees.”

City officials said the ordinance is consistent with a 2017 statute that capped the fees and costs for public record inspection statewide.

“I think it’s really important that government records are available to the public, that people can watchdog their governments,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said at the Feb. 5 meeting.

“That’s one of the reasons why I looked at the language of this carefully. I think the no-charge-for-less-than-$5-copies cost will make sure that for most requesters, there’s no charge.

“But when somebody comes along with a really onerous request that we’re obligated by law to follow, like ‘Give us all your records, ever,’ we have now a mechanism in place that we can account for a large amount of that cost and potentially deter basically a harassing public records request,” Schromen-Wawrin added.

The 2017 legislation allowed cities and other agencies to charge actual costs for public records but required them to first conduct a detailed study of those costs, according to city staff.

“The study required by the statute would be expensive and time consuming,” a staff analysis said.

“As a practical matter no public agency yet has performed such a study.”

As an alternative to the study, public agencies can adopt fees and costs not exceeding those set forth by the state.

“I think this lets legitimate people who want to understand what their government is doing without additional costs, or very minimal costs, but it gives us protection from our own expenses against kind of malicious public records requests,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“That’s my opinion on it.”

To obtain public records from the city of Port Angeles, go to www.cityofpa.us and click on “Open Data & Public Records.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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