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County updates open records policy
Change helps cover county’s cost for requests
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There are troves of data available in the myriad Barton County records open to the public, and this data is highly sought after, County Counselor Patrick Hoffman told the County Commission Tuesday morning.

While happy to comply with legitimate Kansas Open Records Act requests, he said the county has to make sure it is covered for the cost of fulfilling them. To this end, commissioners approved a resolution revising the public records, documents and information request policy.

However, county officials stressed they aren’t wanting to infringe on public access.

“We still want to comply with the law,” District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier said. “We have nothing to hide.”

Making a few changes

“The resolution before you is a tweak and update of the county’s open records policy,” Hoffman said. The reason why this has been reviewed is the current policy was written at a time when most records requests were for paper copies that were physically printed out and mailed to the requester, and at a time when most of the requests were from people who knew what they were looking and had a specific intended purpose. 

“What has really kind of changed in open records is the county gets a lot more statewide requests where an interest group is asking every county for a batch of information.”

And, these groups are wanting the documents electronically, he said.

“This is, of course, completely legal and the county is happy to help them with these requests as long as they’re under the (Kansas Open Records Act), but it just makes complying with the request awkward,” he said. So the change would make clear that the county will ask to be reimbursed for the staff time involved in fulfilling them. 

This involves the county’s freedom of information officer making sure the requested record indeed falls under the KORA and making sure the appropriate action is taken. It also takes department heads’ time and county employees’ time because every KORA request requires the county employees to stop what they’re doing to respond, he said.

”It just takes time away from their workday,” Hoffman said. The KORA statute allows for the county to be reimbursed and that is what the revision is outlining.

“This has been discussed in department head meetings, and everyone is on board,” he said. “I’m optimistic that it’s going to help the county for the next many years.”

Those requesting the records will have to pay the estimated costs in advance, Hoffman said.

Interesting data

“People have the right to these open records and we want to share them,” he said. “But we also have to look out for our employees’ time and make sure the people requesting it are really serious about the request.”

“Do you think this will stop some of those sweeping requests?” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz asked. “I don’t think those are going to slow down at all,” Hoffman said. Assuming the documents sought are open, counties are the repositories of vast amounts of publicly-available data that can be mined.

“People are interested in what we have,” he said.

Paper copies will still be available. There has always been a per-page cost for the printouts.