Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales was appointed by county commissioners this week to be the county’s designated public records person.
Under a revised version of Wyoming’s public records statutes that go into effect July 1, each governmental entity in Wyoming is required to have a designated person who is in charge of responding to public records requests. The identity of each designee will be published on the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information’s website.
Previously, members of the public were supposed to apply for public records directly to that record’s custodian.
The new statutes generally require public records requests to be filled within 30 days. Some officials in Wyoming have expressed worry about that new requirement, and Albany County Commissioners expressed a little guilt about putting the added responsibility on Gonzales, whose office is the custodian for many of the county’s records.
“How do you feel about this?” Commissioner Heber Richardson asked Gonzales on Tuesday.
“To be real honest, I was hoping the county attorney’s office would be the designated office to handle these responsibilities, but it is what it is,” Gonzales said.
Commissioner Terri Jones said she thinks that “as time goes on, we may have to have someone in Jackie’s office that does (public records), because right now everybody’s kind of pushed to the limits of what they can do.”
A resolution passed by commissioners indicates that Gonzales will “receive all public applications for public records for the county and to serve as a point of contact between requests of public records for the county,” including county commissioners, the sheriff, the assessor, the treasurer, the coroner, the county attorney, the planning and zoning board, the clerk of district court, the fair board, the library board, emergency management, drug court, the fire warden, public health, road and bridge, GIS services, the county planning office, information technology, human resources, county maintenance and the grant manager.
County Planner David Gertsch expressed concern about whether the new law will limit his authority to continue handing out basic documents, like applications and copies of permits.
Commmissioners said they didn’t think so. Their resolution, after all, says that “nothing within this resolution will prohibit any elected official of Albany County or any appointed county department manager or county board from receiving and responding to any request for public records so long as response to such a request is made in compliance with all relevant laws and procedures.”
“So at what point do I need to send them to the clerk?” Gertsch asked.
“That’s a really good question,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said. “The Legislature sometimes does things without thinking about the consequences. I only supposed it matters when someone submits a really massive records request and then there has to be some back and forth about timelines.”
Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney who specializes in Wyoming’s public records statutes, told the Laramie Boomerang that Gertsch’s concern might, unfortunately, have some merit depending on how you interpretation the law.
Under the new law, Wyoming statute now states that “all applications for public records shall be made to the designated public records person.”
Moats helped craft the new law and said that, while it was definitely not the intention of the law to require anyone wanting a public record to be required to go through the public records person, the new language “certainly could be interpreted that if you’re asking for a public record, that’s an application.”
Under the old public records law, members of the public were required to make applications directly to the record’s custodian.
But since someone seeking a public record might not know who the custodian is, the law was updated to identify a designated public records person “so people know that there’s one place to go for accountability,” Moats said.
Even though the new statute might say a member of the public “shall” make applications to the public records person, Moats doesn’t think that language should preclude any public officials from handing out records that are easily available.
The old law also spoke of the requirement for an “application,” but it’s “always been the practice that governmental entities don’t need to require an application be filled out if a record is readily available,” Moats noted.
And since records custodians are also allowed to “make rules and regulations with reference to the inspection of the records,” Moats said county’s resolution allowing other department heads and elected officials to respond to records requests should mean Gertsch and other county officials shouldn’t have any limited ability to provide the public with documents under the new law.