COVINGTON -- In Newton County, passport applications are taken by the Superior Court Clerk's Office. But Superior Court Clerk Linda Hays has said she will not disclose how passport fees are spent.
The Citizen filed an Open Records request asking Hays for the number of passports processed per year during the last five years and the amount of fees collected during that time.
Hays has stated she will provide that information no later than April 20.
But Hays said a request by the Citizen for documentation detailing how and to whom those fees were dispersed and spent does not fall under the Open Records Act.
In a letter sent to the Citizen on April 12, Hays cites a section of Georgia law defining public records as those prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of a public office or agency, or items received or maintained by a private person or entity on behalf of a public office or agency.
"My personal records regarding the expenditure of passport processing fees ... are neither prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of Newton County nor are they maintained by me on behalf of Newton County," Hays stated.
The passport application fee is $25.
Hays, an elected official who is paid with taxpayer money, also declined to turn over information regarding her annual income. The Citizen requested any and all documents related to the clerk's annual income, including income from passport fees. Tax returns and schedules attached to the 1040 form were included in the request. Hays said tax returns are private and their confidentiality protected by federal law.
The Citizen has filed an Open Records request with Newton County for any documentation related to passport fee collection as well as Hays' annual income.
Hays said she would provide the Citizen with documentation proving that she has been certified as required to process passports.
Hays has not responded to a request for an interview with the Citizen regarding passport fees.
According to the website for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, passports are issued Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the clerk's office, located in the Newton County Judicial Center.