County working to update public records policy

YAKIMA - Citing changing technology and a growing demand for public information requests, Yakima County commissioners met yesterday with legal counsel to draft an updated public records policy.

"The world is changing, we could get a request via e-mail and our spam filter might spit it out," Commissioner Rand Elliott said of a scenario that actually happened in Western Washington. "Ten days later we could get a call from someone saying they're going to sue us because we didn't respond to the request."

Elliott, who represents an area that includes the Lower Valley, added, "Public information requests are becoming so frequent we need to make sure there's a process in place."

Elliott said the study session was an important step towards consistency in how the county processes public records request.

He says currently every department handles information requests differently.

"We want to create a county-wide policy to protect us," Elliott added. "We get a lot of fortune hunters making weird requests hoping we don't fill them so they can get a judgment."

The lack of a centralized policy, he noted, "is a financial exposure, so we want to make sure we're doing all we can to fulfill the public records act."

Elliott said a formal revised public information request policy will be considered for adoption by county commissioners later this month.

Under the new plan in the works, there would be one county staffer and a corporate counsel through which all public information requests would be funneled. Elliott calls them "gate keepers."

He added, "I'm not averse to public information, but the law is so overboard. It's very onerous and there's no allowance for human error."

Though the public record act has been in effect for several years, Elliott says the county increasingly sees what he calls "clever people" abusing the system. He adds, "We need to make sure the requests are made appropriately."


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