Okanogan County is proposing an update to its public records procedures and fees. The biggest change in the proposed amendment is the ability to charge for scanned and electronic records, Chief Civil Deputy Esther Milner said.
The current county code allows the county to charge for photocopies, digital media like a CD or flash drive, and mailing. Members of the public can inspect documents at no charge.
To simplify the records procedure, the county is proposing adoption of the state Legislature’s approved fees and costs for most county records. If the Legislature increases fees in the future, the amended code would allow the county to raise its fees accordingly without an additional public hearing.
State law currently sets a fee of 15 cents per page for photocopies or printouts, 10 cents per scanned page, and 5 cents for each group of four electronic files emailed or uploaded to a server, plus other fees for transmitting large files. The fee schedule will be posted online as part of the county code.
The new ordinance also includes clearer guidance regarding physical inspection of records.
Milner, Human Resources/Risk Manager Shelley Keitzman and the commissioners also discussed ways of streamlining the county’s procedure for responding to records requests.
State law sets out detailed procedures and deadlines for responding to and fulfilling records requests, but the county’s existing system is cumbersome and not straightforward, Milner said. Because requests come to Okanogan County through various channels – some go to the clerk of the board, some directly to a county department — there is no comprehensive system to ensure that requests are tracked throughout the process, Keitzman said.
The county will review various options, including contracting with an outside firm that would oversee all requests and handle redactions. At present, redacting names and other identifying information from records is extremely burdensome — Keitzman said she has to copy individual pages, white out the redacted section and then black that out.
The county will also explore the idea of a central public records officer who would handle initial requests and route them to the appropriate department. An officer could assist the public in crafting a well-defined request to obtain relevant records, but not “the kitchen sink,” they said.
Each department could have an individual responsible for records requests to make locating them more efficient.
Any changes to the overall procedure for records request will have a separate public hearing.
The public hearing on the current amendment and fee schedule is Tuesday (Feb. 14) at 9:30 a.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. People can provide verbal testimony, or submit written comments in advance to Laleña Johns at email@example.com. People can attend the hearing in person or via Zoom. Log-in information will be on the commissioners’ website.
For more information, contact Milner at firstname.lastname@example.org. wa.us or (509) 422-7280.