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Roseburg may charge for more time spent on public records requests

January 30, 2018 GMT

Roseburg City Council discussed limiting the amount of time that city staff should spend on records requests by the media and other groups without charging the requester for staff time.

City councilors at Monday’s work session meeting said they supported reducing the amount of time by one hour that city staff can spend processing media public records requests without charge. No vote was taken Monday.

The city has proposed in a report that staff could spend a half-hour without charging for requests by persons potentially affected by an item on the City Council meeting agenda, elected city officials, and crime victims requesting a copy of a police report.

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But the proposal left out the media. The city currently allows an hour-and-a-half of staff time to research and fulfill requests before it starts charging for time for requests by persons affected by agenda items, city officials including appointed board members, the media, and crime victims.

The discussion was prompted by a separate matter, state Senate Bill, S.B. 481, which became effective Jan. 1. The bill sets time frames for responding to public records requests which will require the city’s ordinance to be amended to comply with the new state law.

With an ordinance change anticipated, city officials asked the City Council for direction on the issue of how long city staff should spend on media public records requests before charging time.

The issue was brought to City Council after weekly requests from media last year that some city officials thought were excessive, including News-Review requests for copies of e-mails.

Mayor Larry Rich said City Recorder Sheila Cox ended up with many requests for records from the media.

“In my opinion it got overused,” Rich said.

Cox stated in a report that the city processed over 1,000 public records requests last year, which was not provided without a cost to the city. But she did not present any total costs that the city incurred in complying with records requests in 2017. Staff costs range from $40 to $50 per hour, she told City Council.

Some City Councilors said the city should reduce the amount of time charged to media requestors to a half-hour rather than eliminating it in order to continue providing some free access, in the interest of transparency.

Councilor Brian Prawitz said the city should do what it can to have an image of transparency and access.

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Councilor Ashley Hicks said the local media should be encouraged to look at City Council’s emails because it was part of “transparency.”

Changes to the city’s public record ordinance could go before City Council on Feb. 12 when a revised public records request policy is expected to be on the agenda.

Portland is among the cities in Oregon that limit staff time to a half hour on public records requests before it starts charging.

Eugene assesses record requests and does not charge for requests that require minimal staff time to locate and produce. For more complex requests, a cost estimate is provided, and the fee must be paid before city staff will locate and retrieve the records, according to Communications Coordinator Caitlin Estes.

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