Saturday, December 02, 2023

Records requests overwhelming county

| November 8, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Bonner County Commissioner Asia Williams stood up and left halfway through the Tuesday morning commissioners meeting without explanation, leaving the other two commissioners to finish the meeting by themselves.

“She said she’s not coming back,” said operations manager Jessi Reinbold. “Several people have checked on her.”

Williams gave Reinbold a piece of paper with the rest of her votes on it and did not return for the rest of the meeting.

Before Williams excused herself from the meeting, she spoke during her commissioners report about the excessive number of public records requests that the county has been receiving the past few months. According to her, Commissioner Luke Omodt has “identified himself as the supervisor of county officers” and has decided to request a hefty chunk of her emails.

“This is creating a significant amount of work for Bonner County with these requests that are happening,” she said.

Because of the excess of requests not just from Omodt, but from county citizens as a whole, the county is now considering whether it should hire another person specifically to take charge of public records requests. Williams said another problem occurring with many of the requests is their vagueness. Because they do not request a very specific thing, it takes more time to shuffle through every document or email that involves the issue on the request. In this instance, she referenced Omodt’s records requests involving her emails.

“It is way over what they can absorb,” she said. “It removes the ability of legal to to work on their cases to search my email for something that’s not specific.”

Williams reminded the audience that public records are a timed request; the county does not have the luxury to take months to look through hundreds of emails. Most requests must be completed within 10 business days from the date it was submitted.

After her remarks, one public commenter came up the microphone and reminded the audience of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.

“She [Clinton] argued that the assessment, the audit of those 33,000 emails, as Secretary of State, would have been too much of an administrative burden to examine,” he said. “‘You don’t need to see this because it would be too much trouble to see it.’ We have been led to believe, going on 10 months, that the new administration of the Bonner County Board of Commissioners is one of transparency, one of openness, one of the ability of ‘we the people’ to know what in the world is going on.”

The commenter asked Williams if she agreed that it would be too much of a burden for her emails to be records requested and therefore they should be ignored.

“I didn’t say that,” she replied. “I said that the number and volume of requests make it so that the county needs to have another hand in doing it. I’ve actually not said no to any of it. The issue is the volume for the staff.”

Williams said the public is entitled to any and all of her emails, she was merely bringing up the burden it causes staff to have to juggle dozens of requests at once.

Omodt weighed in on the conversation, noting some oddities that he has noticed as a result of his public records requests of Williams’s emails.

“In regards to the emails — when we start talking about the expenditure of taxpayer funds, some of you may have noticed that we have differing levels of transparency,” he said. “Some of those emails that I have requested have said, ‘Do not notify the other county commissioners. They have no business participating in this conversation.’ I paraphrase.”

The commissioner also mentioned how interesting he found it that his correspondence with a prosecuting attorney often found its way into Williams’s inbox, and would then be distributed to other individuals throughout the county for unknown reasons.

“I struggle with that,” he said.

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