By Tia Lynn Ivey
Madison City staff has been flooded with extra work due to a recent influx of open records requests since the beginning of May. In particular, Elizabeth Bell, a local resident and attorney, has requested large volumes of open records including recordings of public meetings, excerpts of ordinances and backup documents, and emails between city staff, city council members and the mayor. Although Bell is a member of the Madison Historic Coalition, a nonprofit volunteer group aiming to protect Madison’s Historic District, she noted the requests filed are not on behalf of the coalition.
“I have filed these as an individual. It’s simply to get background information regarding the Comp Plan process,” explained Bell.
But some City Council members are concerned that the level of information being requested, which according to city officials as generated over a 1,000 pieces of paperwork, is a hindrance to city staff and is becoming too time-consuming.
“It’s excessive,” said Councilwoman Carrie Peters Reid. “People have every right to do it, but then I also think about the taxpayer money. I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money. We don’t have anything to hide. We are trying to consider the entire City of Madison, not just the Historic District. The Historic Distict is important, but every resident in this city pays taxes and we have to think about what is best for the city as a whole.”
Councilman Joe DiLetto is also perplexed as to why so many Freedom of Information Act requests have been filed this month.
“It’s created an extremely congested circumstance within the office of planning and development,” said DiLetto. “We have had to hire another employee to chase down all of these requests. It has gotten to the point where it’s difficult for city staff to get a normal day’s work done.”
Diletto would rather see more public dialogue occur instead of the tedious work required to comply with open record requests.
“People have every right to do this, but I would like to know that the goal is here? What is the end game? What will be accomplished? Is the goal to clog up city staff with these requests and keep us from doing our job? Because that is what’s happening,” said DiLetto. According to Diletto, city staff in the planning department and city council members are particularly being hindered by recent open records request.
“At every turn, things keep happening to try to keep us from doing our job and I would like to know why,” said DiLetto.
Bell had no further comment on ongoing open records requests or how they will be used in the future other than to gain understanding of what goes into the city’s Comprehensive Planning process.