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City triples charge for copying records

Clerk salary used in calculating new rate

Spokane officials estimate it takes employees one minute for each copy they make at City Hall.

Or at least that’s the justification for the recent tripling of prices to make copies of city records.

Earlier this year, Mayor Mary Verner issued an executive order clarifying the city’s open records policy. It includes an increase in copying charges from 15 cents a page to 50 cents. City officials note that the new policy says that copies of 10 pages or fewer are free and that the city doesn’t charge to send documents by e-mail.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Friday that Verner asked city lawyers to review the new charges in response to concerns raised by Tim Ford, the open government ombudsman in the state attorney general’s office.

The city calculated its new fees by estimating that copies are made by clerks paid $42,000 a year, at a rate of one copy per minute after taking three minutes to make the first copy.

“Calculation of staff time should be based on wages of a position that ordinarily would be tasked with the bulk of copying duties, and not for an employee who might occasionally provide copying services,” Ford wrote in a letter dated late last month. “Additionally, almost all copiers are able to make copies far faster than what is assumed in the city’s calculation.”

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the salary was chosen because that’s what clerks earn in the city clerk’s office, the department responsible for compiling responses to public record requests.

She added that she believed the copying rate was determined partly from what other cities calculate, but that because of absences in the city attorney’s office on Friday, that couldn’t be confirmed. Ford, in his letter, calls the city’s calculation “unique.”

Attorney Cheryl Mitchell notified Ford of the price increase after she filed a request for information examining Spokane’s extermination of ground squirrels at Finch Arboretum.

“It’s one more attempt by the city to impede the public’s right to knowledge,” Mitchell said.

The state auditor’s office last year found that the city successfully complied with state records law in eight of 10 requests filed. But the report questioned the city’s attitude, noting that the city’s official lobbying agenda cited a desire to modify the law because of what it described as “unfunded mandates,” among other reasons.

Feist noted that the city dropped its desire to change the law after Verner became mayor.

“I’m very confident that it is her goal to make (records) as accessible as possible,” said Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton.