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Passports Posing Dilemma

By Staff | Mar 24, 2011

While it may not seem like something of consequence, the Palo Alto County Supervisors and County Recorder Bonnie Whitney are facing a conundrum when it comes to Passports. An ongoing discussion over the documents continued during Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors.

The dilemma arose late last year when the United States Department of State, which issues Passports, handed down new guidelines to tighten security of the Passport issuance process. According to Whitney, the major requirement, which will go into effect July 1, is that anyone issuing Passports cannot have access to any form of birth records, and the issuance of Passports must be done at a location other than where birth records are kept.

When the guidelines first came down, Whitney explained how in her office, which has two full-time employees and one part-time person, the requirements would create some serious questions. “How do I restrict access to the birth records for just one employee?” was the first question Whitney posed to the Supervisors at the time. In a discussion earlier this year, Whitney reported that she had tried to obtain clarification and answers to some questions from regional Passport officials, but wasn’t getting the answers she was looking for.

The news was much the same on Tuesday. Whitney brought the board members up to speed; reporting that as an idea, a lockable cabinet to store the actual birth record books in would cost her $1,435 to purchase and place in the Recorders’ office vault. But, that wasn’t all.

“I checked with our software people at Solutions, and there would be an additional expense to have them remove access to the birth records from the part-timer’s computer in my office,” Whitney reported, “and then they would also charge to create new passwords for the rest of us to be able to access the birth records, but then, what would happen if both Sue (Ruppert, Deputy Recorder) and I were both gone? Under these rules, my part-time girl still can’t access the birth records if we’re both gone.”

“I wonder is there any way that we could maybe share this service with Emmet County?” asked Supervisor Ron Graettinger, referring to talks between the two counties on the possibilities of sharing some services. “I think they’re going to quit issuing Passports up there.”

“The problem is we need to have a separate place to issue them other than my office,” Whitney said. “There just can’t be any access to the birth certificates or records, and also the worker who does the Passports can’t have any access to the security paper that birth certificates have to be printed on.”

Whitney went on to explain that she had visited with County Auditor Gary Leonard about the possibility of having a member of his office staff handle the duties, as well as visiting with County Assessor Lois Naig about having her office handle the duties as well, but again, accessibility and availability of the service created problems with those ideas.

“Couldn’t we use the Veterans’ Affairs Office in the afternoons when Ron Hersom isn’t there?” Graettinger asked.

Whitney noted that was a possibility as far as a physical location, in the courthouse, but it didn’t answer the question about who would actually process the Passport applications. “The Government is talking about having a separate counter space and then that person couldn’t do anything else in the office that had to do with birth certificates or security paper.”

“There’s a whole lot of grey areas in what they’re asking for,” observed County Auditor Gary Leonard.

“I just don’t want to see the county lose this ability to provide this service, but that’s what it is, a service,” Whitney said. “We can go to the expense to work this out, but I don’t know if it will be accepted by the federal Passport people when they’d come to see how we do it.”

“It’s kind of hard to decide what to do when those people don’t even know what they want,” observed Board Chair Keith Wirtz.

“What did that bring in for revenue last year?” Supervisor Ed Noonan asked Whitney, who replied it amounted to around $4,000.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the service to our people,” Whitney said, telling the supervisors she’d continued to try and work out a solution to the issue.