Council changed the policy to unify Auburn with state guidelines on open records.
Although Auburn had a policy, it did not distinctly line up with Alabama’s state policies. The new record is a written document formalizing Auburn’s policies with state law.
Residents of Auburn seeking copies of accident reports, financial documents, incident offenses, etc., face price changes for copies of the records requested.
The first five copies of public records are now free within the first 12 months. After 12 months, what used to be $.10 now cost $.25 per page.
Copies of fire and police reports used to be $3, but are now free to victims involved in incidents.
Jim Buston, assistant city manager/CIO, said the city increased the price per page for copies because of the general price increase of commodities.
Council also based the decision on prices other cities statewide charge for copies of public records. Tuscaloosa, Opelika and Columbiana charge $.25 per copy. Troy, Chelsea and Phenix City charge $.50 per copy.
Time-intensive requests now cost $25 per hour of retrieval. These requests are defined as requests that take more than one employee hour to attain the document.
Residents concerned about the new policy changes need not worry.
The goal of the policy is to create a more open city government. Council wants tax payers to know where their money goes and how they conduct business.
The city council said clarity in policy gives citizens a more open government.
“That’s part of the problem," Buston said. "Nobody really understood."
In the past, companies took advantage of city residents by acquiring information from records held by the city and reselling them for a profit. The new policies try to eliminate this problem by making sure the public gets easier access to the records they need.
“What we’re trying to do is protect the tax dollars from these companies that want to sell information,” Buston said.
The council outlined what they believe are essential points to the open records process July 21.
The policy draft presented at the July meeting stated Auburn’s intent to give any requestor access to their records, with the exception “a compelling or legally valid reason to deny access.”
Council also recognized their need to align Auburn’s city policies with Alabama State Law.
“The best thing for government is to formalize the process,” Buston said.
The new procedure aims to make instructions and procedures clear and easy for residents to follow.
“Every requestor will: receive a General Information Notice stating the Public Record Request procedure, receive and complete a PRR form, have access to a fee schedule,” according to the presentation at the July 21 Council meeting.
The requestor will also be notified of the estimated cost of the request, if the estimated time of retrieval is longer than five business days and when their requested is complete.
The presentation also outlined the need for “consistency across the organization” and “a timely response to requests.”
Although it costs more to get copies of public records, the council said the overall goal of the new policy is to help Auburn residents by creating a more open, transparent government.