Village Council discusses public records, conduct
- Published: April 16, 2022
At its regular April 4 meeting, held virtually via Zoom, Village Council members discussed the possibility of charging individuals for public records that are costly to the Village.
Village Council clerk Judy Kintner explained that the Village has recently received “a number of voluminous” requests, including a request spanning 11 years that will require an estimated 20 hours of staff time.
Because of the amount of time needed to fulfill the request, Kintner explained that she needed extra funds totaling $5,000 to either hire an independent contractor or pay staff overtime to compile the records.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of staff time,” Kintner said.
Kintner continued, saying that it is permissible to charge the requester the cost of fulfilling the request in some cases. Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels added that, per Ohio public records law, the Village cannot charge the requester the cost of staff time, but the Village can charge the cost of hiring an outside contractor.
“We are obligated to provide these records by hook or by crook,” Parcels said. “Is it more efficient if we tell the requester ‘We can get it done faster, but you are going to have to pay the cost of the private contractor’?”
Council Vice President Kevin Stokes asked why the $5,000 was needed and whether that money would be reimbursed. Parcels said that the Village would only be reimbursed if the requester agreed to pay the cost of a contractor in order to receive the files in a timely manner.
Village Manager Josué Salmerón added that the recent volume of requests has taken staff time that could be focused on other Village goals.
“I think it’s important that we line up some of these resolutions and contractors to fill in the gaps and fulfill these public records requests,” he said.
Several community members commented on the decision to either charge for records or delay the release of records.
“It seems like a lot of talk about [the Village] can be obstructive,” Athena Fannin said. “I would suggest that you allocate money for an assistant for Judy.”
In a follow-up call, Kintner said she does have an assistant, Chelsey Skinner, who works with Kintner four hours per week and with Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger 12 hours per week.
Sarah Sinclair-Amend said that, while she did not make the request, she knew who did, and the scope of the request stemmed from the Village’s claim that an earlier request with a more limited scope did not yield any results.
“They were told that [the records] didn’t exist,” she said. “The only recourse the public had then was to request the whole file. I don’t think it’s right to blame the public for making an unreasonable request when the [response to] requests [is] that there’s nothing there, when we know there is something there.”
Lindsay Burke added that the problem could be solved if the Village was more forthright with its responses.
“I just wanted to say that an alternative to being flooded with public records requests is to have transparency from the beginning,” Burke said. “Just tell the truth and make the documents available.”
Council voted 3–1 to allocate the funds, with Housh, who said he was confused, being the only “no” vote.
Village Council conduct
As part of an ongoing discussion about Village Council’s conduct on social media, Council members heard a first reading of an ordinance that would amend its rules and procedures and define acceptable behavior of a Village official. This ordinance is part of a response to complaints about Council President Brian Housh’s social media posts and comments to villagers. The ordinance reads, in part:
“Council members are expected to adhere to the same values stated above when engaging on social media. The only additional caveat is that elected officials should take care to be clear as to when they are commenting in their capacity as citizens, and when the comments are intended to reflect their view as an elected official.”
According to Stokes, the caveat was written to recognize that Village officials are also private citizens, and can make posts accordingly.
Council member Marianne MacQueen asked if this legislation would require her to label each post as coming from a private citizen or member of Council. Parcels said that “it depends” and Council members could use their discretion, but Stokes said that Council members should err on the side of clarity.
“I will just say ‘yes.’ It is incumbent on us as individuals to make our positions clear,” Stokes said. “We are always on Council and what the language presents is that we will be presumed to reflect our official role unless stated otherwise.”
Council member Brown said that it is “of no consequence” whether Council members state they are speaking as a private citizen, and that each Council member should assume they are always going to be scrutinized as a Council member.
In the public hearing, Dino Pallotta asked Council members when the investigation of complaints against Housh would be completed.
Stokes said that the first step was to document the process and that he would be responding to each person who complained. Housh later added that sometimes listening to the complaint is how the complaint is handled.
Villager Matthew Kirk said that he questioned the need for new Council rules in relation to a conversation regarding his own social media comments during his tenure as a Planning Commission member.
“You and Lisa [Kreeger] were very clear about how it could easily be confused with what one says as a private citizen versus a member of Planning Commission,” said Kirk. “My crime was not nearly as egregious, but I was asked to resign.”
Kirk went on to say that Council members appeared to be unclear about their own rules, but that the rules were clear when they applied to commission members.
“I guess I’m looking for you to practice what you preach,” he said.
“Being an elected official is political; being on Planning Commission is not,’’ Housh said in response to Kirk.
In response to a request by Sinclair-Amend, Parcels said she would compile a summary of ordinances and policies from other municipalities used to write the Village’s ordinance.
Council did not take a vote, but will hear a second reading and vote on the ordinance on Monday, April 18.