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VOL. 123 | NO. 247 | Thursday, December 18, 2008

Policy to Serve as Guideline for Records Requests

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee officials hope a policy dealing with people who make frequent and multiple requests for public records will help custodians who handle such inquiries.

The Office of Open Records Counsel met with its advisory committee Wednesday to finalize the policy, which is one requirement of the counsel following legislation passed last session that updates the state's open records law.

Under the policy, records custodians may assess a fee for any labor reasonably necessary to produce the request after one hour. Requests for items that are routinely released and readily accessible, such as agendas or minutes, are exempt from the policy.

Open records specialist Elisha Hodge said local governments have the option of using the policy as a guideline or adopting it.

The Public Records Act says all state, county and municipal records are to be available for inspection by any Tennessee citizen – unless the record is specifically exempt.

In October, officials also created a fee schedule as a guideline for records custodians to use to charge for producing documents, as required by the legislation.

Chad Jenkins, deputy director of the Tennessee Municipal League, said the fee schedule and policy are necessary for people who abuse the system, such as requesting records, then not pick them up.

"They use it as a means to harass a local government," said Jenkins, who is a member of the advisory committee. "For those people ... there should be some recourse the government has available."

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the policy is a good start in helping to better educate people about the Public Records law. The Associated Press and other news organizations are members of TCOG, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"The one thing that was lacking that led to the creation of this group and office is ... a lack of training and people not knowing the law," Gibson said.

In addition to the fee schedule and policy, the Counsel and the advisory committee also developed a list of "best practice guidelines" to further help records custodians.

One guideline is for custodians to "respond to a records request in the most time efficient and cost efficient manner possible."

Dick Williams of Common Cause, a group that advocates for stronger ethics and open government, said the guidelines encourage openness and accessibility.

"I think overall we're setting good policy," he said.

___

On the Net:

Office of Open Records Counsel: http://www.comptroller.state.tn.us/openrecords/index.htm

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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