LGWCD Board Considering Revisions To Public Records Policy

At a meeting Monday, the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors reviewed its policy on charging for extensive public records requests and decided to have legal staff recommend revisions.

Supervisor John Ryan said recent events led to the review. He said the district had adopted a general policy in 2011 that it would provide records in accordance with Florida statutes regarding per-page fees for copying, but it did not take into account staff time.

“The most important thing was charging for extensive clerical or supervisory assistance,” he said. “We’re obviously going to provide records in a reasonable time, but we do have to consider staff availability and daily work priorities.”

In the past, “extensive time” has been defined as one hour, Ryan said. “I’m going to suggest a couple of limited modifications,” he said. “I would like to clarify that any records involving our engineering firm, any contractor to the district or attorney’s office that involve charges to the district, that these charges be passed through to the requestor, and I’d like to change the ‘extensive time’ to 30 minutes, but be billed at the administrative assistant’s hourly rate plus benefits.”

Ryan cited several legal precedents to support the changes. He also noted that the state’s attorney general has advised that local government entities have a policy in place regarding extensive time and charges. “We’ve had a spate of requests recently that really have involved some pretty extensive time, and we haven’t made these extra charges,” he said. “But I think for any work that’s going to be done in the future, I’d like to have this policy updated.”

Ryan suggested a 30-minute time limit, with estimates to be provided to the requestor before the work is undertaken, and that a deposit be collected for the estimated time, with the understanding that it would be adjusted up or down depending on the actual time taken.

“I think we recognize that certain records are readily available, and other records have to be searched for in storage and are not readily available,” he said. “The state doesn’t define ‘reasonable time,’ but I think the intent is that the request be evaluated promptly and some estimates of what would be involved in complying with the request, and maybe narrowing so that it’s a little more realistic, instead of all records regarding particular issues. I think the idea is that we need to streamline this policy, and there’s ample precedent to do so. I think that some efforts are interpreted more as harassment and curiosity rather than as a productive effort.”

Ryan made a motion to adopt the changes regarding an advance deposit and the change in time from one hour to 30 minutes. The other supervisors said they would like to hear legal staff’s opinion.

Attorney Mary Viator said the district has an obligation to provide public records.

“My suggestion would be to let me go ahead and look at the suggestions that Mr. Ryan has, and we can amend the existing policy, or develop the policy and bring it back to this board for consideration,” Viator said.

Vice Chair Robert Snowball, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairman David DeMarois, said he would also like to have all supervisors present to make any changes. Both DeMarois and Supervisor Don Widing were absent. Supervisor Frank Schiola added that he would like a survey of the policies of other districts.

In other business, LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe reported that at the July 25 Intergovernmental Committee meeting, Maziar Keshavarz and Randy Wertepny of Keshavarz & Associates, the engineers for the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, said they had met with Minto representatives at Minto’s request to discuss the potential for Minto to provide Loxahatchee Groves with an enhanced stormwater system for water quality treatment and flood protection in return for advocacy for the proposed Minto West project.

“After much discussion, this item was concluded with no resolution,” Yohe said.

Schiola said Minto’s suggestions were somewhat desirable.

“What they were talking about was being able to bring water in from their development because they’re going to be sitting at a higher water level than we are in the wintertime, and in the winter, they wouldn’t have a problem for us to gravity feed water from them into Loxahatchee Groves to keep the north end up so we wouldn’t have to run our pumps so much,” he said. “At the same time, we’re not ready to say we’ll advocate for Minto because, honestly, the water control district doesn’t have anything to advocate for. We’re not a municipality, and we pretty much left it at that.”

Yohe also reported that at the Aug. 22 Intergovernmental Committee meeting, Wellington Projects Manager Mike O’Dell gave an overview of the need for a 10-acre site for a manure collection facility. Yohe pointed out that no site in Loxahatchee Groves is under consideration, but the most desirable site appears to be south of Southern Blvd. on Flying Cow Road.

Schiola said he was at a recent meeting in Wellington attended by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office representatives from Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves, as well as manure haulers.

“It was pretty much made very clear to them that if their trucks come into Loxahatchee Groves, they’ll be going out on a tow truck and somebody’s going to jail,” he said. “The sheriff’s office was very clear about that. The idea of having us as a dumping ground will hopefully come to an end. Wellington realizes that the majority is their problem.”

Schiola said he thought that Wellington was working in earnest to resolve the long-standing issue.

“Working with Wellington has been very good,” Schiola said. “They’ve really been taking the lead on this, and they are actually enforcing the manure ordinance as I requested last year, with the residents and with the haulers.”