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Bowline to propose change to city information request form

Selma City Councilman Carl Bowline has prepared a draft document which, if approved by the Selma City Council when it is presented during the next meeting, will replace the city’s current request for information form.

The current form imposes a cost of $1.75 for each page up to 20, with each additional page costing $1.50, and requires that anyone requesting documents sign a contract saying that the information acquired won’t be used to create controversy.

By contrast, Bowline’s form would impose a cost of 50-cents per page and give people the option of paying $25 for a USB thumb drive to be loaded with documents.

Further, Bowline’s proposal would impose a flat $30-per-hour fee for any information requests that require more than one hour of employee time to complete.

Additionally, Bowline’s form eliminates language that attempts to dictate how public information can be used.

Bowline said his draft is based on the form Prattville uses, though he struck language that allowed for information to be downloaded to a CD and replaced it with the provision to allow information to be uploaded to a thumb drive.

“We want the citizens to be able to get access to documents and we respect that,” Bowline said. “It is state law that people have a right to get this information. When you impeded people from accessing that information, you create suspicion and I don’t want that. My concern is to try to provide a document for the city that I think is equitable for the citizens and the city.”

As far as the provision allowing thumb drives to be employed, Bowline noted that such methods of information exchange are commonplace these days.

“A lot of the corporations and business we work with use thumb drives…to me, it will be a little easier than burning a CD,” Bowline said. “The only concern was viruses and making sure you don’t bring in a thumb drive that already has one on there. So, the city is going to provide one.”

For $25, under Bowline’s proposal, a citizen could come in and receive their requested documents on a city-provided thumb drive – the first hour of work collecting the documents is free, but each additional hour will cost $30.

Bowline noted that he had multiple reasons for striking the contractual language at the bottom of the current document and replacing it with a request for feedback.

“Part of the problem was the way things were phrased and the way it was delivered,” Bowline said. “I think there’s something to say for how you approach things.”

The request for feedback, Bowline said, is an effort to streamline the information delivery process.

“If we know that we’re getting 17 requests for a certain document, maybe we need to handle the publication of that document differently.”

Bowline added that the “off-putting” language tacked onto the end of the current document had no real effect.

“That’s not a legally-binding document in the grand scheme of things,” Bowline said. You cannot limit people’s information or what they’re going to do with it. How can you control what people do with information. That’s relatively kind of fascist. I think there’s been wars fought over people trying to do those sorts of things.”

For the most part, however, Bowline sees the proposed changes as simply part of his duty as a member of the council.

“I just need to know we’ve done something to improve somebody’s ability to access information,” Bowline said. “That’s all I need. That’s what we were elected to do. My job is to serve the citizens of Selma and help them get what they need.”

The new request for information form still has to be approved by the council and then be executed by city hall and Selma Mayor Darrio Melton – for his part, Bowline is optimistic.

“I would hope that he would appreciate the fact that someone took the time to do this,” Bowline said. “This is an apolitical issue. I’m happy to get feedback from his office regarding any changes he wants to make…but making it equitable for the city and the citizens was my primary goal.”