Columbia City Council vows improvement to transparency policy

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COLUMBIA - Members of the community spoke out at Monday night's Columbia City Council meeting about problems with the city's current transparency policy. The city council listened to these concerns and agreed to an amendment to improve the current transparency policy.

A recent claim made by the Columbia Police Association Executive Director Dale Roberts sparked the public forum. Roberts said the police department failed to acknowledge his Sunshine Law request for a set of emails. The law requires the department to to respond within three days with the information requested or a description of when the information will be available.

Another issue that brought speakers to the meeting was the report of a woman requesting a video from the police department and being told the process would take six weeks and the charge would be $500.

Columbia resident Traci Wilson-Kleekamp spoke about her disapproval of the policy after hearing about the woman's request.

 "I think six weeks to get a digital file is too long and I think it's off putting to charge someone $500 for a digital record," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

Wilson-Kleekamp also wanted to comment on the police department's attitude towards record requests.

"Particularly with police relations, I think when we delay and deny on those kinds requests it sends the wrong message," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "We know nothing is wrong, nothing has to be wrong, but just going ahead and giving the information and releasing it goes a long way to building trust."

City Manager Mike Matthes said the records request process can be labor intensive and take a longer time when the request is too broad. He hopes the public will be more specific and concise in future requests.

"If we narrow the search it takes a lot less time and it reduces the cost. When you know occasionally we get a request they want everything from last year. Well thats really expensive and takes a long time to prepare," Matthes said. 

Members of the city council wanted to stress the importance of effective communication between the city and community, and believes the amendment will help the process.