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City council institutes policy regarding public records requests

Lacking a policy regarding how the city of Sunnyside handles public records requests, the Sunnyside City Council approved a resolution at last night's meeting addressing this issue.

In the past some public documents requests were submitted in writing to the city clerk. The new policy now makes that the only way a citizen can make a request for public records.

According to a summary offered by the city, the new policy is being implemented to describe the organization of the city and to comply with the Public Records Act.

Requests must be made through the city's public records officer, which is the city clerk. Requests must be made in writing and can be mailed, emailed, faxed or delivered in person.

All requests must include the name and address of the requester, the date of the request, a detailed description of the public record being requested, the address where copies are to be mailed and the signature of the requester.

The requester can also state if they want the records mailed to them or whether they want to come into city hall and inspect the requested records there.

All requests must be responded to within five business days. Responses can be anything from notifying the requester that the documents are available, acknowledging that the city has received the request and then provide a reasonable estimate of the time it will require to respond to the request, or to deny the records request. More information seeking to clarify the request can also be issued.

The new policy also adds charges to information provided by the city.

No fee will be charged if the requester comes into city hall and inspects the records there. However, 15¢ will be charged for each page of documents mailed out. A 10¢ fee will be charged for each page of a document that must be scanned into a computer to produce an electronic format.

The new policy also states that the city can charge for any staff time necessary for making such copies at an hourly rate. Because the hourly rate may vary, the city will advise the requestor of the hourly rate prior to making any copies.

The city also reserves the right to charge the requestor the costs of taxes charged to the city by any third-party vendor used to make the copies. Postage and shipping costs can also be included in the charges.

The new policy also has language stating the public records officer can waive these fees. Fees will be waived when the expense of billing exceeds the cost of copying and postage.

Sunnyside City Councilman Mike Farmer was in agreement with most of the language in the new public records policy but questioned why the city needs to charge for electronic copies.

Sunnyside City Clerk Deborah Estrada told council that most of the city's electronic records are in a format not compatible with most home computers. Estrada said a majority of the time she must print out a copy of the document and then rescan it into the computer so it can be sent out to the requestor.

Sunnyside City Councilwoman Theresa Hancock said state legislators have enabled cities to charge these fees to balance the amount of time city employees spend on fulfilling public records requests.

She also pointed out public records requests can be made by anyone, even if they don't reside in the city of Sunnyside, therefore benefiting from city services without contributing any tax relief.

Farmer indicated he was still not in favor of charging local residents a fee for electronic data.

The new policy passed by a vote of 6-1, with Farmer the lone holdout.

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