Curry County will revert back to the way it used to handle requests for public information — sending them to the appropriate department — only a few weeks after implementing a new policy that centralized all of them under County Attorney John Huttl’s office.
The county decided to have one custodian because of inconsistencies in how the requests were processed throughout the county’s departments.
Sheriff John Ward, whose department receives the vast majority of such requests, said reverting back to the old system will take more time. And he reminded the board he had warned them about the workload.
“I talked with Huttl about it … and said, ‘I don’t think you want what you’re asking for,’” Ward said, in regards to the initial change. “It’s a lot of work. The system worked well the way we had it.”
Ward has already changed departmental letterheads and notified all those who routinely contact him for information — attorneys and insurance companies among them.
Since Aug. 17, the county’s attorney’s office has received 37 public information requests, of which 33 were for the sheriff’s office, Huttl said.
Ward said he was mostly dismayed there was no discussion about changing the policy back, and said he only learned it might be last weekend when he saw a new agenda item to address it.
And with new state requirements requiring counties acknowledge receipt of the request within five days and produce the requested information within 10, Huttl’s office was soon falling behind. He noted, too, the process gets further delayed because he can’t fulfill sheriff’s office requests without permission from Ward, as many involve cases under investigation and information is not ready to be divulged to the public.
“You think they’re simple, but each one requires time,” Huttl said. “And on the back-end, there’s the cash-handling function, turnover sheets, filling out these forms. We’re not hitting the mark on getting letters out. The system the board created with my input and support — and perhaps ignorance — isn’t working, and I’d recommend we go back to (the old way.)”
Ward said it will take a couple of weeks to revert back, and he cautioned the board about the five-day acknowledgement requirement by which they will have to comply in the interim.
“People will blanket sheriff’s offices across the state, and they sue if you don’t meet the requirement,” Ward said. It’s not that I’m not in favor of (the change back), it’s just that I can’t keep going back and forth.”
Huttl, too, noted the time it will take to revert back to the old method will further challenge his office.
“I don’t know if we can handle another week or two of doing this,” Huttl said. “I’ve missed that five-day window on a handful of (them); we’re (already) getting some phone calls.”
County Commissioner Court Boice used the decision as an opportunity to lambaste his fellow board members again about wasting time and money by trying to fix things that aren’t broken.
“We have just created, through policies, more pushing of paperwork — look at the mess we’ve created,” Boice said. “The expense, the money wasted; it goes on and on and on. No wonder no one wants to come to work with Curry County. No wonder we’ve lost 92 people in three-and-a-half years.”