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Public records request involves more than 20,000 city emails

Port Orchard resident Randy Jones sent a public records request for all correspondences, emails and letters sent between Public Works Director Mark Dorsey, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Biologist Chris Waldbillig, Suquamish Tribe and S’klallam Tribe regarding shoreline approval as they relate to the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway.

Since the beginning of the year, city clerk staff has been combing through more than 20,000 emails to fulfill Jones’ public records request. Jones also requested copies of all building permits for properties along the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway from 2011 to the present.

He sent his request on Dec. 27.

During the July 15 county work session, City Clerk Brandi Rinearson said that Jones had requested emails and letters which results in staff going through more than 20,000 correspondences.

Rinearson said she received the request in late December and clarified the requests in mid-January.

“We have provided monthly installments since January,” Rinearson said. “Of those 21,000 emails, there are about 3,000 to still go through.”

Jones, who runs a charter boat business, has been vocal against a proposed design for the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway that would require Jones and occupants of three other homes to vacate city right-of-way where they park their cars. They could be forced out by eminent domain.

In February, the Port Orchard council approved an $18,000 contract with Universal Field Services for the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway right-of-way services precursor. Universal Field Services will obtain title reports, prepare appraisals, meet with property owners and summarize its findings, which it will present to council.

According to Public Works Director Mark Dorsey, there are five existing structures located within the pathway project limits along Bay Street and as a precursor to extending obligated Federal Highway Administration Right-Of-Way Acquisition funding.

Rinearson told the council that her and Deputy City Clerk Rhiannon Fernandez spend between 30 to 40 percent of their time on public disclosures each week.

During a five-year period, public records requests have increased from 58 in 2009 to 103 in 2013, according to a report from the city clerk’s office.

With the increase, staff time and wages also have increased. Staff spent more than 717 hours on 103 requests last year. That results in $26,393 of staff wages being spent on requests, while the requestor paid out $61.55.

In 2011, there were 117 request that resulted in $12,791 in staff wages and more than 343 hours of staff time. The requestors paid out $274.45.

In 2010, requestors paid out $1,272 for more than 345 hours of staff time for 71 requests.

So far this year, there has been 45 requests as of June 30.

Attorney costs for public record requests for the first six months of 2014 is $11,815 — $8,977 in April alone. Last year, attorney fees was $4,443 and $19,049 in 2011.

Councilman Jerry Childs said he feels the amount of requests to counties and cities throughout the state is “epidemic.”

“While everyone wants open government, we also have to consider at what cost,” said Childs. “I would like to see simple and modest requests be processed as they are now. I would like to see large requests requiring considerable work hours and expense, have to go before a judge or magistrate where the requestor would demonstrate the need for such large requests and the ultimate drain on city/county resources.”

He added that persons, other than the media, who make numerous requests (a level would need to be established) would also have to go before a magistrate or judge to, again, demonstrate need and reasonableness of the request.

 

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