Monday, September 11,
Wayne County's private paper chase
Company that stores public records refuses to give access to individuals over a payment dispute.
Paul Egan / The Detroit News
County public records, including health and mental health records, have become
hostages in a financial dispute between the county and the private company that
stores the records.
Merry Wilson of Detroit recently tried to obtain an autopsy report from her
sister's decades-old and still-unsolved murder, she was told no one could
access such records until the dispute was resolved and she might want to go to
court and seek a subpoena.
don't think it's right," Wilson said. "I want the records, and I
think I'm entitled to them."
are downplaying the effect of the dispute. They say that as a result of recent
negotiations, individual records, including those Wilson wants, can be obtained
as needed, but only after requests are vetted by the lawyers for the company
storing the records at a warehouse in Warren.
Iron Mountain Inc. continues to deny the county's request for a wholesale
retrieval of about 15,000 boxes of mental health, health, jail, medical
examiner and other county records, county spokesman Dennis Niemiec said.
say the county has mishandled the issue, and it is appalling that access to
public records has been delayed and is at the mercy of a private company. A
union official says the case raises questions about whether public records
should even be stored in private hands.
an outrage," said Rose Bogaert, chairwoman of the Wayne County Taxpayers'
Association. "This is not an issue that should in any way affect the
said she doesn't necessarily object to private storage of county records, but
said the county must assume responsibility for assuring public access. That
means it must pay any fees it rightfully owes or "seize the records and
move them" if the money demanded is not justified under the contract, she
June 2005, when the county told Iron Mountain it wanted to move the records to
a county-owned warehouse it is developing in Southgate, the company told the
county it would cost about $130,000 to pack them up and move them out of the
warehouse, both sides agree.
county balked at the fee and, when it did not receive the records, stopped
paying $6,000 monthly storage fees as well. Iron Mountain is claiming about
another $90,000 in back rent.
dispute has caused delays for people seeking records such as patient records
from the closed Eloise (Wayne County General) Hospital, mental health treatment
records, tuberculosis test records and immunization records. The records range
from about 5 years old to about 100 years old, Niemiec said.
Mahoney, a spokeswoman for Iron Mountain, said the county can't retrieve its
records because "the client is not in good standing," due to unpaid
"when it comes to (individual) medical records, we would always release
those records regardless of a customer's standing with Iron Mountain,"
an effort to resolve the dispute, the company has offered to discount that fee
and also to discount the amount it is charging the county for unpaid rent, she
county wants to avoid a lawsuit if possible and simply seizing the records without
first going to court is not an option because "they have possession,"
You can reach Paul Egan at (313) 222-2069 or email@example.com.