Mohave County considers charging upfront for some public records requests

Yvonne Orr, assistant manager for Mohave County, reads a report on public records requests Monday at the Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting. The board is asking staff to look into charging a deposit on requests that require extensive research. (Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

Yvonne Orr, assistant manager for Mohave County, reads a report on public records requests Monday at the Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting. The board is asking staff to look into charging a deposit on requests that require extensive research. (Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

KINGMAN – Mohave County Board of Supervisors took no action Monday on an agenda item related to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and may consider charging an upfront fee for requests requiring extensive research and printed documents.

Supervisors listened to a legal opinion from attorney Ryan Esplin, and heard Assistant County Manager Yvonne Orr talk about a box of papers printed out for a citizen who never returned to pick them up.

She specifically cited a public records request by frequent board critic Steve Robinson for a detailed salary history of the county manager that was not picked up.

The amount of work piled on county staff is “overwhelming,” Orr said.

Research for one recent request for information on the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office took 240 hours, and another for the County Attorney’s Office was 40-45 hours, she noted.

County Manager Mike Hendrix said public records requests are more than substantial, they’re “phenomenal.”

Orr does an “incredible job” making sure the county doesn’t provide information that could damage people, he added.

Supervisor Buster Johnson of Lake Havasu City brought up the requests at a July 16 meeting, saying he’d heard about delays in getting the information out to citizens. He wanted to know the average length of response times.

Routine county documents can be provided in as few as five days, usually under 10 days, Orr answered. However, the request provided in supervisors’ backup materials took a couple months.

“They’re asking for emails,” Orr said. “Staff has to go through emails individually to ensure there are no attorney-client privileges in there, no personnel issues.”

Johnson said the FOIA requests are taking hundreds of hours of county staff’s time, and that there is no clerk who handles those requests.

“It just adds to the demands that are put upon our people who are pretty much short-staffed anyway” the supervisor said by phone.

Supervisor Jean Bishop asked about charging a monetary deposit to make sure people really want the information, and how long the county is required to keep a box of paperwork before destroying it.

Attorney Esplin explained that the county cannot charge anyone to view the public documents, only for copies. There’s also no charge for the research involved in producing those documents.

He had heard about one county that estimates the cost of a public records request upfront, but he was unclear about charging a deposit for the work. The statute does allow for a charge.

Supervisor Hildy Angius asked that Esplin explore the possibility and precedent of Mohave County charging a deposit.