Casco board hears FOIA changes

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — New legislation governing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) goes into effect on Aug. 30.

On Tuesday, the Casco Board of Selectmen held a workshop with the town attorney so members could be brought up-to-date about changes to the FOIA in Maine. Town Attorney Natalie Burns also outlined how the act will remain the same.

Following the workshop and during its regular meeting, the board unanimously appointed, as required by the new law, the Public Access Officer. Town Manager Dave Morton was named Public Access Officer — a title with a job description he has already been fulfilling.

Also, in accordance with the recent legislation, Morton appointed two employees who attended the workshop, as public access officers in his absence.

The town of Casco has seen a spike in its FOIA requests during the past two years. Since the last quarter of 2010, the Casco Town Office as well as other departments has received almost monthly FOIA requests. Some months, the act was used for a dozen different requests, according to Morton.

During Tuesday’s workshop, Casco’s contracted attorney Natalie Burns explained that the appointed access information officer must complete the state-required training, and received the proper certifications.

She recommended Morton for that position.

Burns explained that the public is not required to go through the public access officer to make FOIA requests. However, at some point, all requests would funnel through the PAO, she said.

The FOIA amendments raise the staff time fee to $15 per hour. Previously, municipalities were limited to billing FOIA requests at no more than $10 or one hour of staff work.

Staff time could be used to convert public record into usable format. For example, documents recorded digitally would be reproduced as paper copies, Burns said.

However, as has been the case, the recipients of an FOIA request are not required to draft new documents — if none are in existence.

“There is no obligation to create a record that does not exist,” Burns said.

Also, the town cannot charge a fee — if the person making the information access request is able to look at a file, she said.

An electronic record does not have to be disclosed if it cannot be viewed without disclosure of private information, according to Burns.

Another new requirement balances the public’s right to know with the town’s security.

“If (the town is) purchasing or contracting for computer software, it must consider the extent that it will maximize accessibility to public records while keeping the computer system secure,” Burns said.

She said what came to her mind when reading that amendment was the town’s assessor, and upcoming revaluation data.

“There will be Web access to those (property valuation) records,” she said, adding that the company Vision Government Solution has provided that service to other towns.

 

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