Pasco record request policy to change

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldMarch 5, 2013 

The Pasco City Council in a 5-2 decision Monday adopted a new policy for handling public records requests, creating two tracks for requests depending on their complexity.

During discussions over the past several weeks, city officials have likened the policy to lanes at a grocery store -- simple requests go into the "express lane," while more complex requests analogous to a full shopping cart go into the regular lane.

City staffers developed a scoring sheet that shows requesters how their requests are weighted and assigned into either the simple track or the complex track, and said that will help requesters refine their requests to speed up the response.

But Councilman Al Yenney said he thought it would be difficult for people whose requests are deemed complex to get into the express lane, and instead would have preferred an additional intermediate track.

Yenney said he supported the plan in principal, but could not vote for the proposal advanced on Monday.

"We need something between routine and complex," he said. "I just can't support this."

Councilman Tom Larsen said he agreed with Yenney and also voted no.

Mayor Matt Watkins said he believed the scoring sheet offered an objective set of criteria to help the city manage public records requests, which are eating up more staff time and city resources.

City officials have said in recent meetings that the city clerk is spending about 90 percent of her time -- or about 36 hours per week -- responding to records requests compared to a year ago when she spent only a few hours per week.

The additional time is being spent on a rising number of requests that are large, broad and complicated and may take months or even years to fulfill.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield said there's a backlog of a couple dozen large requests that will take up to five years to finish.

Watkins said that's something the city needs to find a way to manage, while reducing the possibility of getting sued over records requests.

"We can't keep going in the ways we are going," Watkins said.

Crutchfield said that under the new policy, the city clerk would spend about half her time on simple or routine requests and half on complex requests to make sure progress is made on both types.

"We're not using the complex line as a way to forestall anything," he said.

Larsen said he'd like to see an option that allows the requester to say when there's an urgent need or a deadline -- such as an election -- to be met that should bump the request up in priority.

"If it's needed right away, it should be in his hands right away," Larsen said.

Crutchfield said state law already allows for that.

The council plans to review the policy in six months to see how it's working and whether further changes are needed.

Also Monday:

w The council voted 5-2 to adopt new boundaries for council representation districts. The council opted to keep a five-district system instead of a three-district system proposed by the city staff.

Watkins and Francik voted against the redistricting plan. Both said at a previous meeting that they prefer the three-district option.

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