TC Palm – June 10, 2016
by Nicole Rodriguez
After months reviewing its public-records system, the city still can’t quantify how many requests it processes.
The internal audit was spurred by a Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation that revealed a staggering lag time to fulfill information requests from both the public and the news media.
City officials earlier this year disputed the investigation’s findings, that from Jan. 1, 2014, to Aug. 17, 2015, the city received 244 public records requests, an average of 12 per month — according to data provided by the city Legal Department. The city averaged several weeks to process the requests.
City Manager Jeff Bremer in February said the volume of requests likely numbered in the thousands, but four months later officials still are unable to provide that number because there was no organized system in place to track the volume of requests or fulfill them, Bremer said Thursday.
Port St. Lucie averaged 3½ weeks in 2014 to fulfill 64 public records requests and nearly two weeks to complete 84 requests from Jan. 1, 2015, to Aug. 17, 2015, the investigation found. Seemingly simple requests took weeks and sometimes months to process. A request for an animal-control report, for example, took 86 days to fulfill, and a request to review a city employee’s personnel file took 25 days, the investigation also found.
The city has since overhauled its procedures for fulfilling public-records requests, and will implement a new electronic system that would record the number of requests, permit requestors to track their requests and allow city officials to generate records in a more timely manner, Bremer said Thursday.
The city clerk, not the Legal Department, will handle requests for information, Bremer added, with a department head responsible for transferring requests to the clerk’s office, Bremer said.
The time it takes to locate a record, review it for exempt information and make a copy should be “reasonable,” according to the law. The law, however, does not define “a reasonable amount of time.”
The average time Port St. Lucie takes to fulfill requests, however, is unreasonable, Barbara Peterson, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, has said. [READ MORE]