City sets policy, fee for records requests
Receiving public records from the city of Sandy just got a little more complicated.
In adherence to Senate Bill 481, the City Council adopted adopted a resolution to create a records request policy at its Feb. 5 meeting. Before now, the city did not have any policy regarding records requests in place.
Now, the city must process requests within a state-mandated time frame, and the city has elected to charge a fee for the staff time used to complete requests. Requests completed by administrative staff will cost $36 per hour, and requests completed by executive staff, such as the city manager, will cost $66 per hour. Council also requested that staff create a fee structure for smaller, less time-consuming requests, which would be billed in 15-miunte increments.
City Manager Kim Yamashita said in her staff report that the fees were determined based on the labor used to complete requests and found necessary because of an increase in frequency.
Yamashita also called the city's former lack of policy problematic.
"We did not have a policy prior, which is not a best practice," Yamashita told The Post. "Police had (a policy), but their rules are a bit different given the nature of their records. Our's was created for a city-wide policy to ensure that each department was addressing requests for public records in a consistent fashion, and making sure that our citizens needs for these records is honored to the fullest possible extent under the law."
The bill passed by the Legislature last July created stricter guidelines for agencies in terms of fulfilling public records requests. As of Jan. 1, agencies were required to respond to requests "within five business days after receiving the request, acknowledge receipt of the request or complete the public body's response to the request," and they must "complete its response to the public records request; or provide a written statement that the public body is still processing the request and a reasonable estimated date by which the public body expects to complete its response based on the information currently available," according to the bill.
There were a few concerns from councilors about the fees making requests prohibitive for citizens, but when given a breakdown of how Sandy's new fee would fare in comparison to other neighboring municipalities, they determined the fees as "reasonable."
According to the city staff's findings, many nearby cities charge the "actual hourly rate of staff performing work" for records requests. Portland charges $30 per hour, plus material costs, Gresham charges $35 per hour, plus material costs, and Estacada charges a flat research fee of $29.85.
"The idea here isn't to make money," Yamashita noted. "It's just to help recoup our costs."
When asked if she thought the fees might create barriers to access of records for citizens, Yamashita said "no."
"We don't see it as a barrier. I would definitely encourage staff to use their discretion (when charging) and do the right thing," she said.
In other news:
n Mayor Bill King announced that Councilor Lois Coleman has effectively retired from her position on the council as of Feb. 1. She plans to spend more time with family now that she's retired.
Coleman has served the city for 20 years, 10 of them on the Planning Commission and a decade as a city councilor.
"It was the family," she told The Post. "I have a new granddaughter and am planning a big summer trip."
Coleman explained that besides a need and desire to devote more time to her personal life, she also felt it was a good time to transition and get some new blood on the council with large projects like the rebranding initiative and Sandy Community Campus project on the horizon.
"When I commit to do something I give it 100 percent," she added. "I figured it was time to get some fresh ideas in (the council)."
Coleman's position will be advertised and filled as required. The end of her term was to be Dec. 31.
n Public Works Director Mike Walker presented the Department of Environmental Quality's drafted verdict concerning the city's 2017 violations. In August, the city was penalized by DEQ for three separate violations involving improper discharge of wastewater and inadequate water chemical levels. Last it was discussed, the council had authorized Walker to appeal the fee of $34,875 and propose the city complete a supplemental environmental project in lieu of payment.
Since the Jan. 24 City Council meeting, DEQ has reduced the fee by $1,800 and given the city an April 2 deadline to complete its supplemental environmental project, which Walker previously said will be geared toward "improving water quality in the Tickle Creek drainage or elsewhere in the Clackamas River Basin."
The remaining out-of-pocket expense to the city, excluding the costs of the project, amount to $6,800.
Walker also got approval from council to officially contract Portland firm Murraysmith to complete the Wastewater Facilities Plan required to move forward on creating a new treatment plant.