Public records take time, money for BI staff

Editor’s note: First in an intermittent series.

Government entities spend a lot of time and money researching and delivering on records requests filed by the public.

In 2015 there were 420 requests, and that almost tripled by 2018 to 1,128, Bainbridge Island city clerk Christine Brown says in an email. Post-pandemic the numbers have dropped to around 850. In 2021, staff spent 1,713 hours on public records requests at a cost of $106,139.

BI received 789 public records requests in 2022. Police led the way with 414 requests. Of those, 66 were submitted by law firms, 119 requested insurers for collision reports, and 120 were submitted by organizations.

Not counting police, in the first four months of 2023 BI has responded to 134 public records requests, with more than half, 77, involving the Planning Department, 73 the Executive office, 13 Finance and 12 Public Works. Many overlapped involving two or more departments.

Answering the requests took anywhere from 10 minutes on a number of requests to over 35 hours for a request regarding Bethany Lutheran Church and its effort to get density bonus for affordable housing.

Brown says that while she is the public records officer many others help, depending on which department the request is directed to. A part-time public records analyst helps with more-complicated requests and a number of others in the police department answer those requests.

Records are available for inspection at no charge, but electronic copies are 5 cents for every four records. Paper copies are 15 cents per page. The city received $332 for requests in 2021.

In general, Brown says there are a wide variety of reasons people submit records requests. “We do have a few requesters who use the Public Records Act to seemingly further their businesses. We have had two chiropractors make weekly requests for collision reports, and we have had two people request body camera videos for their YouTube channels,” she says.

She adds there are a few frequent requesters. “Two of the more challenging requests were each over 99 pages long.”

Brown says BI’s public records portal has been a “wonderful addition to the program.” BI can receive requests; communicate with requesters; maintain actions taken and time expended by staff with regard to a request; and send responsive records.

“Even the public at large can view numerous city records that have been previously released. The portal has greatly increased transparency. The city is also working to make more records available to the public without the need for submitting a request,” she says.

Top 10 this year

Following are the Top 10 requests that took the most time so far this year. The city doesn’t identify the person who makes the request.

35 hours, 5 minutes: In consideration of Bethany Lutheran Church’s longstanding lobbying of the city for special density bonus for its property on Finch Road in a conservation area, and in consideration of its significant and extensive lobbying for nonprofit entitles the church at Housing Resources Bainbridge in favor of providing density bonus for the church’s property—lobbying documented in public records. I request all communications to and from the city in which the word “Bethany” appears. Timeframe is Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2019.

19 hours, 15 minutes: Copy of internal and external communications that illustrate the legislative history and intent surrounding the creation of an inn as an acceptable use in Bainbridge’s Comprehensive Plan. Please provide communications, documentation and records. How did this emergency come to the attention of the planning director and City Council? How did the council determine the original intent from the previous council?

12 hours, 10 minutes: I’m requesting BI City Councilmember Joe Deets’ emails from Jan. 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2019. Please exclude emails to the entire council. Please organize emails by month so they are not mixed together in the same folders.

10 hours, 55 minutes: Please disclose each email, letter, document or other communication from anyone including Allison and/or Jonthan Borovsky to or from the city from Jan. 1, 2021, to Jan. 9, 2023, relating to repaving or resurfacing the west end of Hidden Cove Road from Manzanita/Henderson on the east, including but not limited to the proposed installation of a speed bump or similar traffic control device near their residence.

9 hours, 2 minutes: Please provide emails, memos or other communication written, electronic or otherwise, provided by the Winslow Subarea planning consultant to city staff or representatives summarizing the results of citizen outreach, including surveys, small group interviews, including quotes, statistics and summaries. Please provide the names of invitees and attendees at all events held to date or scheduled for the next month related to this planning. Please also send the amount paid to the consulting team. Filed March 9.

8 hours, 20 minutes: Information requested from Oct. 1, 2022, to Feb. 2, 2023, regarding any documents that pertain to communication between representatives of the city of Bainbridge Island regarding Lucy Gilbert and/or property at 106640 Manor Lane NE. That would include emails, texts, letter, etc.

8 hours, 15 minutes: Information regarding permitting Fort Ward Playground. Are there no emails between City Council members making a decision to require a permit for the park? Any emails from City Council to the parks department notifying them of the requirement or explaining the process for a permit for the playground? Request made Feb. 26.

7 hours, 20 minutes: Records relating to the planning, drafting, passage, implementation or impact of the moratorium on the development of new inns in the Neighborhood Center Zoning District, including all communications, documents, emails, texts or other records from the first such record to March 16, from any department.

7 hours, 20 minutes: I am requesting all emails and their attachments, photographs, letters or records of phone calls and internal communications of city staff related to the property at 10292 Ronald Court NE on BI or with Mark or Barbara Franks or anyone representing them from June 2, 2021, to Feb. 27, 2023.

6 hours, 2 minutes: Please provide all texts, emails and other data pertaining to discussions about traffic, water and business allowed in Residential 4 zoning and easements pertaining to properties at 9390 and 9392 NE Wardwell Road between Jan. 1, 2022, and Jan. 13, 2023.