An overtime wait for public records

Lesson learned: Don’t file a public records request with Vancouver during the holidays.

A story today takes a look at the top overtime earners in cities across Clark County. What started as a year-end story turned into a weeks-long exercise in journalistic dyspepsia, as I waited, with growing unease, for the city to pass along its public records.

The following is a timeline of exactly how long it took:

Dec. 20 – I filed a public records request with the city of Vancouver requesting a list of its top overtime earners, what they made in overtime in 2012 and what they made in total compensation. I was told it would take a few weeks to fulfill the request. That seemed fair, although Clark County’s other cities had rather quickly passed their information along.

Dec. 27 – I received an email from the city telling me that if I amended my request, adding a few more details about what I wanted, the city would be able to expedite it faster. After I sent along my revisions, the city responded with a letter saying it would have the records to me by Jan. 18. A little long, I thought, but at least I had a date.

Jan. 18 – After waiting for nearly a month, the city sent a letter pushing back the date of its public records release. It would take an extra week, the letter said.

Jan. 25 – A week passed, I called the city and then I received another extension letter.

By this point, I realized something: Whatever overtime the city spends on its employees, it’s likely that none of it goes to the people who work on public records requests.

So I’m feeling a little like a landlord dealing with a flaky tenant. Replace “the check is in the mail” with the rather robotic-sounding “additional time is needed to ready the responsive documents,” the exact wording of the letter, and you get the idea.

Feb. 1 – The city’s document finally arrived in my inbox. But there was a catch — a big one. After a six-week wait, the numbers are all wrong. So the wait continued.

Feb. 5 – I finally get the actual, factual document. It’s taken the city 47 days to send it along.

Now don’t get me wrong. The city didn’t violate any law, or do anything wrong, by taking so long. As Vancouver’s spokeswoman Barbara Ayers pointed out, the winter holidays are not a well-staffed time for the city, as work slows and employees take time off. January is the busiest time for the city’s HR department, she said.

“There are many reasons why a (records request) can take up to six weeks,” Ayers wrote in an email. “The response timeframe is usually driven by the nature and complexity if the request, access to data and staff involved.”

And as I predicted as far back as Jan. 25, none of Vancouver’s top overtime earners work for the city’s HR department.

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