Not All Government Agencies Consistent in Accepting Emailed Records Requests

From the Twin Falls Times-News

TWIN FALLS • Idaho has come a long way in improving access to state public records, including making the first 100 pages and two hours of labor free.

But while the code is clear on what is and isn’t a public record, Idaho government entities often have their own systems for responding to requests. And sometimes, those policies unintentionally run astray of the law.

Bob Cooper, communications director for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, said record-keepers can require requests be made in writing. They can also require that those requesting information provide their name, email address, telephone number and mailing address.

Twin Falls County has a specific request form. That form can be faxed, emailed or dropped off in person, said County Clerk Kristina Glascock.

Other counties allow requests to simply be written in an email.

Idaho Code 9-338 says requests for public records “may be made by electronic mail.”But some entities, like Minidoka County, specifically exclude email as a valid way to request information.

That exclusion is against the law, Cooper said.

“If you go back to the definitions of a public record and writing, it includes email,”Cooper said. “As a practical matter, if you’re a citizen, if the agency says you can’t do it by email, that’s not what the law says.”

Minidoka County Clerk Patty Temple said her county’s email rule has been in place since before she took office.

“But that’s something that maybe I need to take a look at,”she added.

Jerome County also requires public records requests to be faxed, mailed or dropped off in person, though Jerome County Clerk Michelle Emerson has filled at least one email request for the Times-News in the past two months. Emerson was not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

If an Idaho government entity doesn’t comply with the state’s public records law, complaining to the attorney general won’t help. Through statute, the only avenue to pursue a complaint is by suing the county, Cooper said.

In 2008, resident Lee Halper filed a lawsuit against Jerome County for not filling an emailed records request. Fifth District Judge G. Richard Bevan ordered the county to fill Halper’s specific request, but didn’t rule on the county’s policy.

On Thursday, Halper said JeromeCounty still requires him to submit physical copies of public records requests.

Lawsuits aren’t always necessary. Jerome County Commissioner Charlie Howell said he didn’t know about the county’s email rule, and was willing to consider pursuing a change.

“If we get a point brought to our attention that’s not working for the citizens… We don’t have a problem with changing,” he said.

From the Twin Falls Times-News

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