CAIRO — Grady County is changing the way it responds to open records requests to meet the exact requirements of state law.
Records requesters will still be able to view the documents they're searching for, but the county no longer plans on locating imprecisely specified items from open-ended requests.
"Whatever the law requires of us, that's what we're going to do and we're going to require of the requester to do what they are required to do," said County Administrator Buddy Johnson.
"We apologize to anyone who is inconvenienced by that, but what you do for one, you do for all," Johnson added.
Any costs associated with locating records will be passed on to the requester according to the per hour pay of the lowest-paid employee who gathered the requested items.
Open records requests in Grady County are "through the roof," Johnson said, and many of them are highly detailed. Some requests require the county to pull people off work to find documents or determine if the requested items even exist.
"It's disrupting the day-to-day business of the county," Johnson said.
In at least one instance, road department superintendent Stanley Elkins was called off a job site to dig through records for documents that were ultimately determined not to exist. In another instance, the county was asked to look through records from 1990 to locate a single sentence.
If the situation doesn't improve soon, Johnson said the Board of Commissioners may need to consider hiring a full-time open records clerk.
"The idea of it would be to put everybody else back to work," Johnson said.
Open records laws in Georgia require responses to requests within three business days. County attorney Gabe Ridley said that means requests have to become a top priority as soon as they're received.
Previously, the county was going "above and beyond" those legal requirements, Johnson said.
"If you came in and asked for something, we got the records, we made the copies, we laid it all out nice for you or mailed it to you, whatever it was," Johnson said.
That practice was initially done as a courtesy because there were not that many open records requests, Johnson said, but lately it's been diverting attention away from the regular tasks of government officials. He said Grady County is receiving about three times the amount of open records requests as other surrounding counties, a majority of which are coming from a select group of county residents.
"I make no bones," Johnson said. "It's a certain small group that does it."
The situation is made even costlier because county officials have to frequently contact Ridley for guidance on what can be released on documents containing private information.
It was during one such conversation with Ridley that he clarified that the county did not have to be so accommodating with its open records policy, Johnson said.
From now on, Johnson said, the county doesn't plan on conducting research on behalf of records requesters.
"The fishing expeditions can be on the requester," Johnson said. "If they want to fish, let them come fish."