Letters To The Editor - Records requests shouldn't be a burden

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The following is response to the U-B editorial "Senate plan to charge for records search is misguided."

I would suggest you investigate the process further before pledging support against this initiative. There is a great deal of overhead to perform a records request that would be appropriately covered in an article dedicated to the Public Records Act. The editorial provides an opinion without illustrating the due process of what it takes to perform a records request.

One item you neglected to reference is the liability a government agency or institution has to meet strict guidelines to produce such a request. There are citizens who have figured out they can profit by the strict guidelines by overwhelming public records departments with a barrage of requests. The city of Othello, Wash., is one such example.

It is targeted by an individual who understood the process and retribution of the timeliness to produce a public record request. The city filed for bankruptcy due to the fines incurred due to the lack of personnel to meet the demand. The citizen who made the request has also targeted other communities with limited staffing and has profited substantially.

The Public Records Act is a necessity in a free society. It would be an appropriate rebuttal of SB 6576 not as an inconvenience and potential of gouging the consumer as you have noted but instead should be modernized. This act was passed well before modern computer systems were used in public institutions. It was also passed when information was not as vast as it is today and incremental in the future. Today electronic records in addition to hard (paper) copies need to be searched. This includes email, disparate databases and electronic file systems. Most institutions have not been funded to keep up with the incremental demands of information that was not an issue in 1972.

The appropriate focus of this issue is to amend the Public Records Act as a whole and should be expanded beyond the educational context of SB6576. An amendment could address modernizing the records storage and retrieval process. Tax dollars currently fund staffing, records facilities, archives and computing systems which store public records.

The amendment could also address such abuses as noted above. A records request should not be a burden on the tax base as a minority of citizens request records. It is a service and should be funded as a per use basis such as obtaining a driver's license or a building permit.

David Bossini
Meridian, Idaho

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