Jasper County changes open records policy to thwart abusive requests

Nov. 14—Jasper County IT Director Ryan Eaton proposed a number of changes to the county's open records policy, which is a direct response to individuals who made open records requests that took up a lot of staff time or made requests but did not show up to receive them or requested large amounts of records that used up county resources.

For instance, requesters must make a $50 deposit, which is refundable if it takes less than 30 minutes to acquire the open records. There would also be cumulative charges, like billing staff time to 30-minute increments and charging $0.50 per sheet for photo copies. Legal or oversized copies will be $0.75.

DVDs and USB sticks will be $15 and $20, respectively. Eaton again reiterated the staff labor will be charged to the nearest half-hour for each staff member working on the request. Supervisor Brandon Talsma asked if elected officials and department heads have discretion to be able to carry out simple requests.

Like if somebody wanted to visit the auditor's office and make a request for an open record that takes a staff member five minutes to collect and only amounts to two pieces of paper. Eaton confirmed with Talsma that practice would be OK and that the new changes to the policy are to stop people from abusing requests.

"That's all we're asking," Eaton said.

Supervisor Denny Stevenson asked, "So everybody would pay $50, but if it's under 30 minutes they get it back?"

"That is correct."

Two months ago the Iowa Public Information Board's legislative committee announced it is considering introducing a law that could enable government agencies to effectively ignore public records requests made by "vexatious requesters" in order to stop excessive and abusive requests.

Jasper County was prey to a vexatious requester for some time. The resident made numerous requests that would have taken considerable time to complete. Many of the requests were non-specific in their content and timeframe. The individual had made similar requests to other cities in Iowa.