Washoe County commissioners today delayed a decision to hike public records fees. They cited a lack of specifics, scant information presented about other jurisdictions and a lack of clarity in the language submitted by the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office for the proposed changes.
Commissioner Alexis Hill said those issues were enough for her to delay a vote on the matter.
“I don’t know if I have enough data to approve this proposal today,” she said.
Open government advocates said the fee hikes would be illegal.
“Charging for personnel time expended to fulfill a records request is a clear violation of the Nevada Public Records Act [NPRA],” said the Nevada ACLU’s Holly Welborn. “The plain language provides that a governmental entity may only charge requestors for actual costs. Personnel costs, that includes as salaries, those are costs that you are going to pay out anyway.”
Deputy District Attorney Nate Edwards said the Nevada Legislature removed draft language that would have authorized charging for staff time. Therefore, Washoe County should be able to increase fees to include charging for an employee’s time to gather public records.
“[The NPRA] does say … that you can’t charge for basically overhead items, expenses you would have incurred regardless of the request, leading open the door to charge for things that you incur not regardless of the request but because of the request,” he said. That led to the county to decide to propose charging for staff time.
The Washoe County Health District and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District have adopted similar fee schedules to the one the county considered today.
Welborn disputed the D.A.’s reasoning. She was part of the team that worked on changes to the NPRA in 2019.
“Never at any time was a concession made to provide for charging for personnel costs,” she added. “That is not included in the law and should not be interpreted in that matter.”
Richard Karpel with the Nevada Press Association agreed and said the county proposal considered fulfilling public records “a side-job, an incidental responsibility. There are claims made about burdensome requests … and there’s always a worst-case scenario [and] there is never any data.”
Commissioners also said the lack of specifics by the D.A.’s office meant the measure was not ready for a vote.
“The two-hour rule can be discretionary,” said Commissioner Bob Lucey. “It has to be a little more specific. We need more detail … around the fee schedule itself.”
Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said the fee for staff time is subjective since some staff could process records faster than others.
Other commission items
Flooded Lemmon Valley properties
Commissioners approved home purchases in the Lemmon Valley flood plain. The Reno City Attorney’s office recently settled with plaintiffs who sued the city for allowing development in the Swan Lake area, which then flooded starting in 2016. The county today approved up to $1 million to purchase five properties.
“All five of these properties will be deed-restricted as perpetual and permanent open space,” county staff said. “It is believed that future purchases of certain residential properties in and around Swan Lake may help address future flooding issues.”
Wildcreek Golf Course gets new ownership
The First Tee nonprofit will be the new owner of Wildcreek Golf Course. The county had the title to the property but an agreement approved today will transfer ownership to First Tee. MAZZ Golf Management, through a license agreement, will operate and maintain the course.
Karma Box Project gets up to $190,000 for river cleanup
The Karma Box Project was approved to continue clean-up efforts on the Truckee River.
“KBP will provide homelessness outreach and education, conduct data collection, lead river clean-up volunteer teams, and clean and maintain the Portland Loo bathroom facilities,” staff said.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.