Photographing of city records may be banned

Phone cameras cutting into Durango’s copying fees

The Durango Mall made more than $16,000 worth of public-records requests with the city regarding its correspondence with Mercury, the credit-card payment-processing company that is building a corporate headquarters next to the mall, a project that the mall had initially opposed through litigation.

The mall’s records request required four city employees working 10 days to complete, but “then the mall said they didn’t want to pay it because they did not need all that information,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said during a City Council workshop Tuesday.

While the mall eventually paid, city staff members recalled the incident to illustrate the demands on their time for public-records requests and problems the city has in recouping its costs.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to get money from attorneys,” City Clerk Amy Phillips said.

The city now wants to forbid photographing of public documents because people apparently are photographing the requested records with their smartphones and no longer asking for copies to be made. Copies cost 25 cents each after the first 10 copies. The fee also is applied to records that are digitally scanned and emailed.

Phillips said the city will go to the trouble of consolidating “the records and let people come in and observe the records and tag which ones they want copies of, but we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies,” Phillips said. “Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

The problem also is that some who request records are not sticking around for the bill. The city recently was “burned” on $125 worth of copies and staff members’ time by someone who took photocopies of the requested documents.

“A plumber wouldn’t let you get away with that,” Councilor Sweetie Marbury said.

Phillips acknowledged that the city needs to tighten a policy requiring records requesters to pay a deposit of half the cost of a records request up front.

The cost of a records request is calculated by adding the cost of the copies with the amount of required staff members’ time, which had been figured at the pay rate of the employees who compile the information.

Now, the city wants to charge a flat rate of $30 an hour to complete a records request, which Phillips considered to be a consumer savings because some employees make more than $30 an hour.

The new $30 rate and the no-photographing rule are expected to go before the council June 17 for formal approval.

During an initial policy discussion Tuesday, staff members did not consider the routine requests made by engineers and architects for blueprints and plats to be records requests. So those requests would be exempted from the no-photographing rule.

City Councilor Dean Brookie, an architect, recalled that he once photographed documents requested from the city of Los Angeles, but Brookie said he paid the city for staff time.

In other action

The city’s financial records got a clean audit and the “highest level of assurance” from Haynie & Co. certified public accounting firm in Littleton.

The council has settled on four goals for 2013 to 2015. Councilors are promoting community sustainability; encouraging civic engagement; efficient and effective government; and envisioning a “sense of place” by promoting responsible land-use planning and maintaining a sense of identity for the community.

A fee on disposable bags is considered an objective of community sustainability. The bag issue will come back for more discussion at a June 25 workshop. It is possible the issue could go before voters in November because there also will be a city vote on reorganizing fire and emergency services.

jhaug@durangoherald.com