Increased demand on staff time to serve public records requests has led the North Bend City Council to adopt updated policies June 4 regarding the Public Records Act.
The resolution limits the amount of time spent on records requests to 20 hours per month and retains the default method of charging fees for copying records.
Much like similar statistics seen in Snoqualmie, North Bend has charted a rapid increase in the complexity and amount of records requests in recent years. In 2016, the city recorded 56 requests, and 2017, the city had 91 requests. In 2018, the city began recording staff hours and totaled 139 requests for the year with 253 staff hours spent responding to those requests.
City Administrator Londi Lindell said that due to the increase in demand created by requests, it has been difficult for staff to balance other essential job functions. In accordance with RCW 42.56.100, the city is able to adopt “reasonable rules and regulations” to prevent “interference with other essential functions of the agency.”
Lindell said this change is viewed as a preventative measure because the current workload generates about 21 hours of records work a month. Response times are not expected to slow dramatically due to this resolution, she said.
“We really hope this will help our requestors to be more efficient, narrow their scope so that we can move those through quickly,” Lindell said. “But I can tell you having been your former city administrator, I watched over the last seven years… an inability to get to basic job functions. Things like archiving records, getting things done because this work component continued to grow and grow and grow.”
The cost of copying records was also addressed. The default cost structure was recommended by staff and would maintain the prices set by the Legislature. Photocopies or printed electronic copies are 15 cents per page; records scanned to an electronic format at 10 cents per page; 5 cents are charged for every four files attached to an email or uploaded to another delivery service; and 10 cents are charged per gigabyte for sending records electronically.
While records are prioritized by the order they are received, the city officials said that if a request can be served very quickly and easily, that request may be addressed sooner. If multiple requests are from the same person, any additional submissions after the first may be addressed after requests from other citizens who do not have multiple pending submissions.
Councilmember Brenden Elwood said that prioritizing requests in this way would not stop them from being completed, as state law demands that no Public Records Act request be ignored.
The idea of hiring additional staff to directly contribute to the workload in the future was brought up by Councilmember Martin Volken. Elwood and Councilmember Jonathan Rosen agreed, adding that the policy can be addressed again in the future if necessary.
“If the citizens at some point feel that this is a priority, then we’ll look at hiring a full-time staff member to do that,” Rosen said. “Until I hear that, we have to protect this resource and do the best we can with what we have.”
The city council approved the resolution to update the public records policy in a unanimous 7-0 vote.