Our View: Clerk's office should embrace records law

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The Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office's response to a new law lowering the cost for copies of public records was disappointing.

The law - Senate Bill 45, overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature this year - went into effect this week. It lowers the cost record keepers can charge for copies of public records to no more than 25 cents per page. Previously, state law had allowed record keepers to charge up to $1.25 per page, the highest rate of any state in the country.

To be fair, Clerk Kay Weinland's office was affected by the law more than any other agency in the county. The clerk's office handled more than 18,500 requests for copies of public records in the past 12 months alone, meaning the new law could have an impact of nearly $20,000 a year on clerk's office revenues.

Still, we were shocked by Weinland's negative response to Senate Bill 45. She said the costs of the new law would be passed on to taxpayers. Her office implemented new fees (Weinland said the fees were simply what's allowed by law and were not in response to Senate Bill 45). She said 25 cents per copy does not cover her costs for retrieving and providing public records. Also, she said the majority of the requests in her office are for real estate records sought by for-profit businesses.

"Maintaining the equipment, along with the retrieval and research conducted by my staff takes time," she said. "We've got to find a way to make up for this loss (of funds). This is something that moved right through the Legislature, and I don't think they gave it much thought."

But Weinland's concerns about the financial impact on her office are, we believe, misplaced. The clerk's office has no business trying to generate revenues by charging the public for records the public already owns. We don't believe it costs 25 cents to make a copy of a public record, much less $1.25.

Weinland said "the retrieval and research conducted by my staff takes time." But the law still allows her office to charge a "reasonable fee" - separate from the 25 cents per page - for more time-consuming records requests. Senate Bill 45 initially capped that fee at $15 per hour, but the Colorado County Clerks Association successfully lobbied to have that provision removed. Currently, the Routt County Clerk's Office charges $25 per hour for the labor required on such requests, though Weinland said her office rarely assesses that fee.

Also, it's irrelevant that most of the public records requests are from profitable business interests. It's not the clerk's office's business who is accessing public records or why they're accessing them.

Finally, we disagree with Weinland's statement that the Legislature didn't give this bill much thought. Senate Bill 45, which was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Andy McElhany of Colorado Springs, was approved unanimously in the Senate, 67-3 in the House and was signed quickly by Gov. Bill Ritter. Such overwhelming support underscores how necessary - and how right - this change was.

Public records belong to the public, and the clerk's office should be doing back flips to make access to those records as easy and as inexpensive as possible. Anything less than that is a disservice.

Comments

doug monger 7 years, 4 months ago

Of course the Pilot and Today would support discounted prices for public records, I'm sure they are members of the Press Association who surely lobied hard for their public subsidy. I believe that the users of the service should pay for the service, not the public as a whole. Nothing is free and providing these records does in fact cost money. It would make the most sense that the users of the system pay for the system. Government is indeed not Kinko's and the Government should not be forced to subsidize any form of private enterprise (Press Association)

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Hadleyburg_Press 7 years, 4 months ago

We already paid for these records and this service unless of course you are a tax evader...

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 4 months ago

No, Hadleyburg, taxpayers pay to keep the place running. Proper reimbursement for supplies is common in any industry. Taxpayers paid to have the records kept so they could look at them. Making copies of those records to take with you are extra. Otherwise, public records would have to have a "Blockbuster Clause:" return and rewind within 5 days.

I'm sure if you wanted to raise the appropriate taxes to make duplicates free, I'm sure we could get that on the ballot.

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sickofitall 7 years, 4 months ago

I support Kay Wienlands decision.She is simply trying to cover her costs and operate on a budget. Hey, Why isnt the Sunday pilot free??

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id04sp 7 years, 4 months ago

Public records are there for a reason.

Your Court of Appeals, for example, issues huge numbers of "unpublished opinions" which, in fact, document departures from previous precedent and case law, as well as state and federal law, by your state courts. In order to see these unpublished opinions, you have to go to Denver and look at them, or pay for copies. This is a very convenient way for corrupt courts to hide what they are doing.

When Dundalk challenges me to "prove" my allegations, well guess what? I can't give her a case number to look up on the Colorado Judicial Department website to see for herself. She'd have to go to Denver and stand at the clerk's desk to read it, or pay for a copy.

The cost of obtaining public records just became 5 times more affordable than it was before. This is a very good thing for private citizens who want to know the truth and do something about it.

People win big controversies in this state all the time because they have lots of money, and their opponents do not. People with money can pay attorneys to do research; the rest of us have to do it for ourselves.

This state could save a whole bunch of money by holding attorneys in contempt and prosecuting them for committing, or helping their clients commit, perjury. There would be a lot fewer unjust lawsuits on the docket if the litigants knew they were in danger of going to jail for lying. The courts don't do that, because every judge is a lawyer, and too many people know where the bodies are buried.

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housepoor 7 years, 4 months ago

Don't kid yourself thinking this has anything to do with access to public records. This doesn't benefit joe blow tax payer, the only people it benefits is title co, mortgage brokers & law offices who deal in the larger volumes. Who costs will now be reduced allowing them to make more moneyat the tax payers expense.

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thecondoguy1 7 years, 4 months ago

house, get real, title, mortgage, realtors, attorneys, have all this at the tip of their fingers on line and print off their computers, google Routt county assessors records, you will find out who you are, where you live, how big your house is and what kind of roof it has, not to mention who you owe and how much, and guess what you can print it for free, it's joe blow public who needs a copy for his passport or to keep one of the above from screwing him that takes the shalakin for this outragous cost..............

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id04sp 7 years, 4 months ago

It's very easy to go on the Routt County Clerk and Recorder and Tax Assessor websites and get lots of information about real estate transactions, loan amounts, etc. There is no such site to obtain court records.

You can check the Colorado appellate court decisions on the Colorado Judicial department website every week. You can look for names of local judges involved. If you want to know what really goes on in your courts, order copies of the unpublished opinions regarding local court cases. The published opinions are available free of charge online. You can also pay a little bit per month to gain access to searchable court record data bases (such as Versuslaw.com) for published opinions.

A former judge who "did me in" had more than one case where he did a favor for an attorney who also sat on the judicial review committee and gave the judge a "retain" recommendation. Tit for tat, quid pro quo, and, "Thanks, buddy, here ya go!" One such "favor" involved granting a waiver to a developer so they did not have to provide the downtown parking spaces required by the local code. This particular decision was overturned, however, in my case it was not. Mine was unpublished (imagine that!).

The public simply does not have easy access to court records, and usually cannot interpret them without assistance from a lawyer. A person can, however, read a bunch of opinions and learn a lot about the law. Reading the rules of civil procedure, and the rules of evidence, and knowing how to look up appellate decisions is a short leap from there if a person really wants to know. Guys in jail do it all the time.

The law is really not so hard to understand if you want to take the time. It's a breeze compared to science and engineering. California even allows you to go to law school online and sit for the bar exam (although most other states won't allow you to take their bar exams or admit you to practice without five years experience, you can practice in California and Federal courts just like any ABA law school grad). It's the convoluted record keeping and ABA controlled state bar associations that stand in the way of people representing themselves in court.

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