In Idaho, public records are fairly easy to obtain. Simply file a records request with any public agency and, based on Idaho Code, if it takes less than two hours there is no charge and the records are yours.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) requests all sorts of records from around the state to add to its Internet database, AccountableIdaho.com. Recently, requests for 2010-11 payroll data, expenditures and the number of roads miles covered by individual highway districts have been requested.
Out of the requests sent, 50 had been returned without incident until the Minidoka County Highway District in Rupert responded with a letter saying that in order to complete the request, it would take 35-40 hours and would cost the foundation $800.
IdahoReporter.com attempted to contact the highway district Wednesday and was told the superintendent was out of the office but would be back Thursday to answer any questions.
Thursday morning, IR received a phone call from the lawyer for the district, Alan Goodman. Goodman said that the district switched over to a different computer system and it would have to collect all of the information manually. He also said redacting some of the personal information would take some time. “Based on the information they (IFF) requested and how it was stored (in the old system), they have to redact some of it as well.”
Goodman said that he wasn’t sure of the exact number of employees, but thought it was around 20 workers and staff to maintain, according to the county’s website, the 608 miles of roadway in the county, which has a population of 20,069.
Of the three types of information requested, only the payroll would need to have some personal information, such as Social Security numbers, redacted.
Expenditures from some other districts, whether on paper or in a digital form, have been copied and sent out in response to the records request. As for the number of road miles the district oversees, that information is filed every year with the state.
Erik Makrush, the IFF policy analyst who requested the information, says he was confused when he received the letter from the district. “The reality is, it doesn’t take that long to look up employees and how much they made in a year. They can base it on W-2s. Road miles, they report that every year.”
Furthermore, said Makrush, records obtained from other, bigger agencies have resulted in none of this hassle. “We have records from K-12 education, colleges, universities, cities and counties, ITD (Idaho Transportation Department). We have all these records from other state agencies. To my recollection, this is the first request for money, especially $800, for a small group of employees. We have hundreds of thousands of records in our database and we add an average of 1,000 more each month. As I said, this is the first time. It’s ridiculous.”
On Thursday afternoon, Jess Miller, the superintendent of the highway district, returned a call from IR and echoed Goodman’s take on why the records would take so long and cost so much.
Miller, however, also said that he had been out of the office for 10 days, and that he had not seen the request personally. Instead, his staff had been the ones to send the estimated cost and hours to IFF.
Miller said when he got to the office on Monday he could then take a better look at the request and possibly get some of the information out right away.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.