Seeking city records: 2 responses - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Seeking city records: 2 responses

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Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 5:33 am | Updated: 7:56 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Queen Creek officials took an extraordinary step after an employee botched a routine public records request last month.

Resident Chris Wagner asked to review records for pool fence citations on Dec. 7. Queen Creek building safety manager Tim Wegner failed to handle it smoothly and delayed access to the pool fence citations by a day.

The town responded by offering a seminar on such requests for its employees. Most of the town’s staff of 85 attended the two-hour workshop Tuesday.

Attorney Bill Farrell distributed copies of the Arizona Public Records Law, explained it and encouraged town employees to follow it.

Simply extraordinary.

Consider Scottsdale’s approach to the same issue. On Friday, the Tribune sought to review funding requests by each of the city’s departments.

City Attorney Joseph Bertoldo refused, saying the funding requests might mislead the public.

Yet, a quick review of the Public Records Law reveals that there is no exception based on the assumption that someone named Joseph Bertoldo thinks everyone else is too dumb to understand what he understands.

By Monday, the city’s position had changed.

Media relations manager Mike Phillips wrote in a letter that the city refused on the basis that officials hadn’t completed the process of tabulating the funding requests.

Yet, another quick review of the law shows that there is no exception based on the ability of someone named Mike Phillips to use the word "tabulating" in an unspecific manner.

By Tuesday, the city’s position had changed again. Finance director Craig Clifford said the request would be considered anew.

What’s to consider? Public business is the public’s business.

Farrell discussed the Scottsdale matter at the start of his seminar, suggesting the opposite approach. He discussed the simplicity of the law, which states, "Public records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times."

Among Farrell’s recommendations:

• "Underline that word, ‘shall.’ We all remember English 101. Shall means shall. May means maybe. It doesn’t say, ‘may,’ ‘might’ or ‘kinda.’ It says, ‘shall.’ "

• " ‘Any person.’ If there are any staunch Prop. 200 fans here, you don’t even have to be a citizen of the United States. You can be anyone and ask to inspect public records."

Farrell also suggested employees try to make the process as pleasant as possible, offering record-seekers a chair or a cup of coffee while they wait, and paper clips and yellow sticky notes to help organize their documents.

"That kind of nice attitude goes miles and miles with most citizens," he said.

Simply extraordinary.

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