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City Amends Public Records Policy

By Staff | Jun 25, 2015

Emmetsburg has updated its policy on Public Records to include payment for employees’ to locate records on request and make copies upon request. Action came at Monday, June 22, City Council meeting.

The city’s policy has always included a payment fee for copies of public records. That fee schedule now includes color copies and electronic copies of public records. The fee schedule is posted on bulletin board in City Hall.

Another change is payment for employee services when search for public records exceeds 15 minutes (quarter of an hour). When time to locate and copy a public record exceeds this time limit, a charge will be imposed for assistance or supervision that is the employee’s hourly wage, exclusive of benefits.

Emmetsburg resident Margay Gross questioned the charge for employee services.

“The one that strikes me as being onerous is the employee services,” she said. ?”If it exceeds one quarter of an hour, I don’t know how anybody would figure that out, not knowing what people are making on an hourly basis. Can you guesstimate??Suppose somebody took a full hour to do something. What would that equate to?”

City Clerk Kim Kibbie answered, “It would depend on which person was doing it. There are several different pay scales. Even now, before you get something, we tell you how much it’s going to be.”

Using Pete Hamilton (who was attending the meeting) as an example, Kibbie continued. “He had me make copies the other day. After I did it all, I e-mailed him and told him the copies were ready and how much it would be. At that point he could have told me he wasn’t interested.”

Gross questioned, “You were charging him by the page at this point??So if you put on top of the page charge the hourly wage, what do you think that would be for an hour??What would you guesstimate?”

Kibbie said the cost could be between $15 and $20,

“What I would say to you as a member of the public, that’s a very expensive charge for a public record. I realize, and I don’t think we’ve abused, at least I don’t think I have, I can’t speak for anyone else, abused coming in and asking for documents,” Gross said. “If you told me something cost $30 to ask a question and find some information I think that’s a very high charge.”

Gross urged the council not to support the employee services fee.

Mayor Heddinger pointed out, “Some records they are asked to find are very difficult to find and it takes a long time. And therefore, that person who is looking for that record is taken away from their work.”

Councilman Bill Burdick questioned, “Is this consistent with other towns?”

Kibbie answered, “It’s a replica of Spencer’s – almost. I looked at several.”

Councilman Corey Gram-owski addressed the question. “I understand your concern. Over the last couple of years there have been some requests that have taken days to dig everything out, find it and it isn’t what they want, dig again. There are only so many people working here and they have a job to do.”

Gross noted, “But part of their job is the management of public documents.”

City Administrator John Bird noted, “The addition of the office employee is due largely to the increase of requests for public documents. We realize we have to respond to them, that’s obvious. The law requires it and we’re happy to do it, but the added work because of requests for public documents — that’s one of the reasons that we’re overloaded in the office.”

Addressing Gross, Bird added,?”You said earlier you didn’t think that you made many requests. Far and away we have more requests from you than any other citizen in the city for public information.”

“Me personally?”?asked Gross.

“No comparison,” said Bird.”I’m not criticizing. I’m just telling you, you make more requests than anyone does.”

Gross answered, “Part of that might be because I don’t have the historical perspective that some people who lived or been here full time for a number of years have. When I think about projects — the event center, or the campground or the marina – that goes back several years. Is there a way to make these documents more accessible to the public so you don’t have to go back and research them??I’m sure it’s going to get talked about again.”

Councilman Burdick said, “If you could scan them all on a computer that would be an ideal situation, but it would take a long time. I’ve been down stairs and there’s a lot of files down there. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff you’ll never see it again because it’s irrelevant.”

Gross said, “I’ll only make one comment in terms of my questions. It’s that people are asking me to ask and you can go in any direction you want in terms of why they feel that they can’t ask a question directly. I don’t mind asking and I want the information for myself also, but I do ask on behalf of others sometimes. But I think this particular language is prob- lematic. I would ask the council if you feel you need a fee to set a fee for it. At least it’s a known quantity. When I ask a question it’s going to cost $20.”

Councilman Gramowski said, “It’s like bidding a job for a certain dollar amount. Thinking I’ll get that done in three hours and then it takes three days. You don’t make any money. We’re not here to make money, we’re just trying to recover our employees’ time from their other every day job duties. I don’t know how you would put a flat fee.”

Councilman Burdick added, “I?don’t know if you could just put an average price per hour fee.”

Kibbie again addressed Pete Hamilton, ?”If I had told you there is an additional $20, would you have said I?don’t want this information?”

Hamilton answered, “No, we need that information for a little study what we’re doing.”

“Did you feel that charge was out of line?” Kibbie asked. Hamilton said no.

“It did take me along time to do that, that’s why I’m asking,” said Kibbie. “That was not the amended rate I could have said there’s an additional $20 for my time.”

“No,”?said Hamilton. “I?needed the information so, no, I appreciate your timeliness.”

When asked about other amendments, Kibbie explained the policy states it gives employees up to ten days. “Pete was wonderful because his request came when I couldn’t get at it and he waited for me to make time to get that and research it.”

With no more discussion, Emmetsburg City Council unanimously approved the amended policy. Councilmen Hermansen and Kauten were absent.