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Alpena County installs public records terminal

News Photo by Julie Riddle Posen resident Todd Powely scans texts from the work cell phone of former Alpena County sheriff candidate Terry King at a new terminal at the Alpena County Courthouse that makes public records more accessible.

ALPENA — A new computer terminal at the Alpena County Courthouse offers area residents access to information that’s been requested from the county through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Installed in the last week, the terminal in the building’s lobby gives centralized access to records requested in recent years from many county entities, from property information to police records to emails sent by public officials.

“If a FOIA is requested, those are public record,” said county board Chairman Bob Adrian.

While FOIA allows governments to charge requesters for compiling, reviewing, redacting, and copying documents, and that process can take time, any document provided to a requester through FOIA is required to be made available to anyone else, without wait or cost.

Users wishing to access previously FOIA’d records need only check in with the commissioner’s office in the basement of the courthouse to sign a release and be logged onto the computer on the building’s main level.

Not all county entities’ FOIA records are currently accessible at the terminal. Adrian suspects most agencies will decide to make their FOIA information available electronically once officials realize the new method can save employees’ time in manually sharing the information.

FOIA requests have increased noticeably during the current election cycle, Adrian said.

Today, Posen resident Todd Powley used the terminal to research documents FOIA’d from the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office in recent years.

Powley, who can’t vote in Alpena elections but takes an interest in local politics, applauded the commissioners’ decision to add the public access point to FOIA requests.

“When there’s a controversy,” Powley said, “people can know that they can come down and be able to make public officials accountable.”

He said he wants to see for himself what government officials release through public records to be able to make up his own mind what to believe.

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