At a city council meeting on Tuesday, the Lake City Council debated a new public records policy.
The old policy provides the first 15 physical pages of a record for free, and does not charge for the first 15 minutes a city employee spends looking for a record. The proposed new policy doubles both of these to 30 pages and 30 minutes.
At the meeting, council members discussed whether 30 minutes was enough time for an employee to search for a record.
City Clerk Audrey Sikes said at the meeting the number in the policy doesn’t always match up with what really happens, and that the city doesn’t “truly charge for every minute” spent looking for a document.
But community activist Sylvester Warren rebutted Sikes’ comment at the meeting, saying if the city writes a resolution it should follow it, and even threatened legal action if the policy passed as-written.
Warren said in an interview the number on the page matters.
“If I call and I do a public records request, and you are only gonna look around for what I’m requesting for 30 minutes and anything after 30 minutes, you’re gonna begin to charge me. Well, I think that’s unfair. 30 minutes is not a lot of time to look for something,” he said.
He also disagreed with charging fees for public records.
“We just have to be mindful of every human being within our city government. In our society, everybody are not on the same financial level,” he said.
Sikes said at the meeting that most requests don’t get charged a fee at all, because the city “rarely” gives out hard copies of documents, and electronic copies come free of charge to the requestor unless extensive redaction was required.
Sikes said she was unavailable for an interview but in an email called the existing policy “outdated.”
That one was established in 2008 and is a two-page document that lays out the procedures and fees associated with public records requests.
The proposed new document is 12 pages long, and includes specific definitions and more detailed procedures.
The council eventually moved to table the resolution for a later date and have each council member discuss the policy with Sikes one-on-one.
Warren said this is a great opportunity for the city to prove itself, and he’s “confident in the city government that they will work this out and make it a win-win for citizens and staff.”