Lane County has been criticized for its lack of transparency, and a June meeting of the county’s Policies and Procedures Committee included a discussion of making it even more costly for the public and media to gain access to public records.
Commissioner Rob Handy is a member of the committee, which also includes County Administrator Liane Richardson and fellow Commissioner Sid Leiken, among others. Handy says that Government and Legislative Affairs Manager Alex Cuyler and Richardson brought up a proposal to multiply the charges for public records by a factor of 2.5, calling it a “scrivener’s error update” to changes that were made after a December 2011 public records update to the Lane Manual.
In the past the county has threatened to charge $140 to $200 per machine searched in email records requests, and it recently quoted attorney Marianne Dugan a charge of $3 million for her public records request related to a May 3 emergency meeting and allegations against Handy.
Currently the county manual says “fees shall be calculated to reimburse the county for actual costs in making records or information available.” Those fees include the full cost of the staff position providing the information plus 2.5 percent “to cover costs associated with building, maintenance, utilities, etc.” Richardson and Cuyler requested this be changed to “multiplied by a factor of 2.5.” Other charges include copying fees, staff time to redact records and materials used.
“Looking at this change, doing the math from a couple different angles, it’s extraordinary the difference,” Handy says. He pointed out at the meeting that adding 2.5 percent on top of the base charge is very different than multiplying by two and half.
A public records request that costs $200 increases to $205 when 2.5 percent is added. But if multiplied by a factor of 2.5, the request would increase to a cost of $500 to the citizen or media outlet.
“We had quite a discussion, and I emphasized that this was not a scrivener’s error,” Handy says.
Leiken chairs the Policies and Procedures Committee and did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
Handy called the attempt to push the change through “another in a series of alarming trends in Lane County.”
He says that the change in fees that affects the county’s transparency needs to needs to rise to the level of having the Board of Commissioners discuss it and have public input, adding that “major policy shifts should be made by commissioners rather than staff.”