Pasco to take more time to work on public records policy

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 20, 2013 

The Pasco City Council on Tuesday opted to take more time to hammer out details before changing the city's policy for responding to public records requests.

The council will continue discussions at its next workshop about creating a fast track for simple requests requiring less staff work and a slow track for more complicated, labor-intensive requests.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the proposed policy change is intended to speed up responses to simple requests, such as for a copy of a building permit, that may involve one or two documents and can be fulfilled quickly, instead of putting those in line behind larger requests, such as one for all city council emails on a given topic.

"We think this is a significant improvement for the public to evaluate which requests are a burden and go into the burden line," he said.

Pasco officials estimate they're spending more than $100,000 per year in staff time responding to voluminous public records requests, but hope the creation of a public records "express lane" will make responses more efficient and less costly.

Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel outlined for the council the criteria that would be used and provided a draft of a weighted scale to determine whether a request was simple or complex.

Criteria include things such as whether records are clearly identified by the requester, how many departments will have to respond and the number of documents that would have to be provided.

"We're trying to keep this as simple as we can," Strebel said.

Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik said she liked the work city staffers had done in designing the policy.

"I like that the focus of this resolution is to provide better service for our citizens. It is not to block public records," she said.

But Councilman Al Yenney said he thought the criteria needed more work to make it clear to the public whether their requests would make the fast track or the slow.

"If the criteria to make it simple isn't exactly known, how do they pinch it down?" Yenney said. "I don't think it's codified to the point I would be comfortable with it."

Resident John Talbott said he liked that the city is trying to simplify responses, but reminded the council that the records belong to the public.

"I applaud the effort that's going on here ... but let's not lose focus that this is for the people," he said.

The Herald objected to the proposed policy in a letter to Crutchfield and the council, stating the criteria set out in the resolution under consideration were too subjective and that creating two tiers of responses should be left to the state Legislature.

Crutchfield said in response to the letter that the proposed criteria are more objective than the informal policy the city already uses to fast- or slow-track requests.

"This actually helps advance the idea that we're going to be able to more quickly evaluate and more fairly evaluate and more transparently evaluate any request that comes in," he said.

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