Arpaio Files Lawsuit Vs. County on Public Records Issue; County Says Sheriff's Request Costs $911,000

Taxpayers will shell out $911,000 for a public records request for Maricopa County documents that was filed last year by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office, a county official says.

Yet in a report tonight by Channel 5 news (KPHO-TV), Arpaio says the public may never find out the reason for the request. He confirms only that it involves a criminal investigation.

C'mon -- is there any question that if Arpaio had anything solid at all, he'd be talking about it?

Remember the Goddard investigation? Fact is, the public has a right to know what Arpaio hopes to find in that expensive records request. There's no question that his office's similar fishing expedition through records at the City of Phoenix was a complete waste of county resources.

Richard De Uriarte, spokesperson for Maricopa County leadership, states in an e-mail this evening that the sheriff has filed a lawsuit to block the county from implementing a new form that restricts the way county employees can file records requests. De Uriarte writes in a response to the filing that "this is ridiculous." Full text below:

First of all, the county is complying with the sheriff's innumerable public records requests, unfortunately which involved reviewing and producing hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of pages and untold expense.

In fact, in order to comply with one open-ended request, the board is researching the purchase of a new software program to pull e-mails faster. Another costly public expenditure for an information request that offered no beginning date, no ending date and no subject matter. OMB estimated complying with one single request would cost taxpayers $911,000.

Indeed, the reason the county manager's office developed the alternative information form was to handle these requests in a more efficient manner. At the time (last winter), county administration received an avalanche of public information requests from the sheriff and county attorney. Requests that struck many hard-working employees as little more than harassment, intimidation and busy work.

As for this latest lawsuit, rather than calling someone at the county and asking, the sheriff has filed another lawsuit. Another waste of taxpayers' money when we are complying.

Sure, it would be great if the dissemination of public records was streamlined somehow with the new software and processes De Uriarte speaks of. But, ironically, it's the sheriff's office public records system that needs the most streamlining.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.