The city of Anacortes estimates the cost of fulfilling public records requests rose to $26,000 last year, saying it took 400 hours of staff time to handle the 86 requests.
This year, fulfilling a single request from a former employee meant reviewing 4,000 e-mails and took more than 50 hours of staff time. A request from a prison inmate took more than 40 hours to process.
That’s an issue for Mayor Dean Maxwell, who says that while the city is happy to share public information with the public, current state law makes it too easy for people to make frivolous or harassing requests that drain time and money away from public safety, parks, libraries, museums and other amenities that benefit residents.
The mayor, who has mentioned the burden often in recent years, is not alone. The cost of public records requests is a hot topic around the state.
Some cities say they are being paralyzed by the time and cost involved with dealing with persistent requesters and lawsuits that arise. Getting some relief for cities is an issue that has been high on the Association of Washington Cities’ legislative agenda for several years.
But citizens here and around the state say it’s the job of government to fulfill their requests, some of which are made when they feel something is being done behind closed doors. The state’s Public Records Act is designed to guarantee everyone has access to the public records of government bodies. And organizations that promote public access say there are ways for cities and agencies to handle large requests and even proactive things they can do to make more information available to the public.
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