Records requests eating up city overtime

April 07, 2009

The City of Akron Law Department explained to Council's Budget and Finance Committee Monday that it requested $200,000 in overtime compensation for staff to respond to an unprecedented number of constituent public records requests, many from citizens backing the recall of the mayor.

Committee chair Tina Merlitti (W-7) said the Law Department requested the overtime to answer 108 public information requests last year, excluding criminal and civil court records. Consequently, Merlitti said, the department is also looking to spend $300,000 to hire four additional staffers to take up the slack from all of the requests.

Merlitti said she became concerned upon reviewing the department's overtime request and when she learned the department would be asking for more money to add to its staff.

"When I heard about the overtime and the fact that the department is researching hiring more people, I asked them to speak to the committee," Merlitti said. "My concern is that we are already operating under a tight budget.

"We want to provide information to the public, but at what point does it become harassment and a burden on the taxpayers?" Merlitti said she asked the Law Department to research state law on the city's obligation to respond to public records requests and report back to the committee at a later date.

"My understanding of the state law is that we have a reasonable amount of time to respond to public requests," Merlitti said. "They (city employees) have bent over backward to handle them. I've asked the Law Department to conduct further research on the law."

All public records requests are funneled through the Law Department for review. If need be, the department will delete sensitive information such as citizens' social security numbers, the names of minors and other private data not essential to the request.