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Clerk says passport records destroyed, confidential

COVINGTON -- Superior Court Clerk Linda Hays said records related to passport fees retained by her office are confidential and/or have been destroyed.

A letter delivered to the Citizen on Friday from Hays states, in part: "As a certified passport agent, I retain copies of passport transmittal forms for each passport I process. As provided by the Passport Agent Resource Guide provided by the Passport Services Office, these records are destroyed after 24 months. Since these records contain confidential information on passport applicants, the confidentiality of these records is protected under the Privacy Act of 1974 ... "

Hays supplied one form, a report submitted to the U.S. Department of State Passport Services Passport Application Acceptance Program, which states that the number of passport applications accepted from Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, was 1,560. Calculated at a $25 processing fee per passport, that would amount to $39,000 collected in that 12-month period.

The letter was in response to an Open Records request submitted by the Citizen on April 9 requesting that Hays provide documentation showing the number of passports processed by her office during the last five years and the amount of fees associated with the processing of those passports.

Hays stated that she would respond to the Citizen's April 9 Open Records request by April 20. The Citizen ran a story on April 29 stating that Hays had not complied with the Open Records request.

Hays stated that she faxed the information on April 17. When reached by phone on Friday, Hays agreed to a sit-down interview with the Citizen that afternoon. She later delayed the interview and then canceled it, but had the letter, dated April 17, hand-delivered to the Citizen office.

The Citizen has also asked Hays to provide documentation showing how passport fees have been spent.

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.

State law allows clerks of courts to keep the $25 administrative passport fees as personal compensation for doing federal work.

The Citizen filed an Open Records request with Newton County requesting Newton County disclose any records in the county's possession related to passport processing fees collected by the Superior Court Clerk's Office for the past five years.

The resulting report shows passport fees collected from December 2007 through December 2008. The reporting then becomes more sporadic, with reporting for only the months of January, April and May 2009 and January 2010. Asked to provide clarity on why there were gaps of time in the report, County Manager John Middleton stated, "We have fully complied with the Newton Citizen's open record request and provided reports and information as requested. If we did not handle the receipting or disbursement of passport fees it would not be reflected in our records."

At least a total of $55,025 has been collected in passport fees during the past five years, based on the documentation provided by the county.

Comments

Frustrated 2 years, 7 months ago

Wonder what shes trying to hide? Funny how the records have all of a sudden been shredded.

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

If this statement is 100% correct. "........these records are destroyed after 24 months. Since these records contain confidential information on passport applicants, the confidentiality of these records is protected under the Privacy Act of 1974 ... ". Then someone explain to me and others how were records found for December 2007, January 2008 thru January 2009 (consecutively), April & May 2009 & January 2010 per the April 30, 2012 Newton Citizen report. See I was born at night but it wasn't last night. Ms Hays needs to explain why these records which are much older than 24 months ago & I assume contain the same confidential information were note destroyed. Or was it that someone was very lax in their execution of a position responsibility of seeing these older than 24 month old records were actually destroyed. Or is this some "smoke & mirrors" statement? What say you?

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amp72 2 years, 7 months ago

I would comment but i don't want to be sued.

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HonestAbe 2 years, 7 months ago

WOW Wonder when they got destroyed. I mean SPLOST is adding more room for record keeping at the court house. This is why we need term limits on local elected officials. They stay in to long and problems develop. They begin to think they are immune from questions and forget they work for the voters. I for one don't believe her. If i was qualified to run against her i would, just to make sure she has to answer questions about this in the debates.

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HonestAbe 2 years, 7 months ago

WOW Wonder when they got destroyed? SPLOST is building more storage space for her. This is why we need term limits for local elected officials. They stay in to long and problems develope. They begin to think they are to good to answer questions to the voters and press. I for one don't believe her and do believe she kept all the $25 fees and just does not want to admit it in election year. I wish i was qualified to run against her just so i could use this in the debates to make her fess up or not answer directly in front of the voters. I.m betting that if she runs she want show up at the voting forums.

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Silverbullet 2 years, 7 months ago

I think there is a huge difference between the public having knowledge of the MONIES collected from passport fees and the public having ACCESS to who paid them. This is about the most lame excuse she could have come up with. She can accurately provide the amount of MONEY she collected from them without divulging the names of people who paid the money. Destroyed? Her income tax W-2 forms(and returns) are required to be kept for at least seven years. Why didnt she just look on her W-2 forms for the last seven years and call up the local papers and tell them rather than trying to hide it? It would have gone away in a flash most probably if she hadnt tried to hide it. Is she now suspect of not having the best interests of the people who pay her salary and benefits and who elected her to office at heart? You decide at election time. I guess anyone who throws their hat in the ring next election will beat her if she is arrogant enough to even run.

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RobertLee 2 years, 7 months ago

Hey, if you are a State Senator or Congressman, then you need to change this law NOW. How the devil did this ever get started? Allowing a portion of a tax or fee to be paid to an elected official as some strange way of recompense? Please! Government officials are paid SALARIES and that is how they should be compensated. Stop the politics and change the law. No more $25 per passport to the County Court Clerk.

You are free to change their salaries and/or the cost of a passport though. This would stop crazy politics like this from happening.

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HonestAbe 2 years, 7 months ago

My goodness, my goodness. Mrs Tatum keeps asking the same questions and Mrs Hayes keeps putting her foot in her mouth in different ways. All these years in office and we find this out about her. She won't fess up and be honest with the voters that put her in office. I believe she kept all the fees just by the way she is avoiding the ORR. I mean it's legal for her to do it under today's law.Can someone please tell me why Middleton was felt qualified to be county mgr? I mean he was quitting the lower level executive assistant position for health reason. Don't speak much for the 3 commissioners who voted to give him the county mgr's job ability to judge talent. Maybe they should leave the countyexecutive interviewing and hiring to proffessional human resourse people who know what they are doing. I wonder if Mrs Tatum would have gotten better cooperation from an elected spokesman like Mrs Morgan? Oh i forgot they took that part of her job away (the 3 commissioners) by a simple 3 to 2 vote because they were scared the voters wouldn't side with them in a referrendum.Of course they had the all to highly paid and powerful county attorney on their side. My, My, My, If it smells bad-it probably is.

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