More on Port Orchard’s Open Records Regs

The City of Port Orchard took careful note of two open records lawsuits recently settled against Mason County.

At Tuesday’s work study meeting, City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick told the council staff are looking into ways to avoid the pitfall Mason encountered when a records request was tagged as “spam” by the county’s e-mail system.

City Attorney Greg Jacoby pointed out that there were other lapses in Mason County’s case resulting in $320,000 in penalties and court costs against the county, including a delayed response to the request once they knew it had been filed and even after they knew the suit had been filed. “The Mason County case is kind of extreme,” he said.

At the meeting, Councilman Fred Chang questioned the wording of the city’s open records ordinance in reference to e-mailed requests.

PO in September enacted an update to its public records ordinance, stating the city will no longer accept e-mail requests. The city clerk, who is the designated public records officer for the city, will still process requests by e-mail; the change in the ordinance was meant to cover the city in the event that one slipped through the cracks.

Chang said he was concerned about the wording of the ordinance that he said could be construed as confusing. He suggested a rewording indicating that while the city makes every effort to respond to e-mailed requests, sending them in other forms is recommended.

Chang acknowledged riding herd on the hundreds of e-mails the city receives each day and responding to public records requests is an “onerous” task, but he questioned why Port Orchard is the only city in Kitsap County with such a policy.

“Every other city in the county has more staff than we do,” said Mayor Lary Coppola.

Coppola said the city is not “worried about getting around the law,” it is dedicated to meeting the requirements of the law despite the quirks of e-mail and spam.

Kirkpatrick said the city has had problems with e-mails going to the spam server and they are “looking into that.” There is also talk of having a designated e-mail address for public records requests.

“It was never my intention to tell anybody that we would not accept e-mail (requests),” Kirkpatrick said.

Jacoby said having a designated e-mail account for public records requests would put the city in a good legal position in the event of a suit.

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