NO Form & No Copy Fees
BOE examines Public records policy
By: Pat Hunter
August 16, 2009
At the last minute of Thursday's Aug. 13th school board meeting, public records was added to the agenda but the actual discussion lasted less than 3 minutes from beginning to end.
During the public comment period two people spoke about the public records issue. Richard Truitt, 5th District resident spoke about public records. As he re-called, during the public records lawsuit, the Chancellor ruled that a form was not required to see records. That's what I thought he said to the school board. Truitt was referring to a lawsuit that was filed in Loudon County Chancery Court by three citizens after Mayor Doyle Arp created a public records policy for people trying to access public records. Arp's policy required that those requesting public record information must fill out a form and pay a minimum, upfront, non-refundable fee of $25, plus 25 cents a page for any copies of county documents. Any requests taking longer than an hour for Arp's staff to research would result in an additional $25-an-hour fee.
Pat Hunter followed Richard Truitt and confirmed that during the lawsuit, the Court ruled that no form was required if a person wanted to inspect public records. She commented that policy 1.407 (School Board Records) states that a person is required to sign a form in order to inspect public records and the policy was inconsistent with T.C.A. 10-7-503 7A, which states in part... "A records custodian may not require a written request or assess a charge to view a public record unless otherwise required by law..." The director's evaluation and contracts, funded with public monies are discussed at public meetings and are public records, which the public has a right to see.
During agenda item 7, School Director Wayne Honeycutt said that he would keep it fairly short and sweet. Director Honeycutt studied the school board policies. We really do not have a policy that said that people had to sign for the records, he commented. But that was a practice that was used in many places and not necessarily by everyone especially people that were aware of the lawsuits that were filed in Loudon County. People would not be required to sign forms to look at public records but records would be kept of people that do look at records. If you want copies, then the law allows for people to sign and we do not charge for copies. The School Director's recommendation would be not to charge for copies unless at some point we get a tremendous amount, he thought that it was a public service that he thought the schools should provide.
Board member Lisa Russell asked, do we have to change the policy that Ms. Hunter spoke about, do we have to look at that?
Its a policy on personnel records that's the only difference said board member Van Shaver. Shaver was referring to Personnel records policy 5.114, which was included in the school board packet, which gave the director the authority to set a policy, open ended. Shaver wasn't too worried about the Director on anything in particular. He mentioned that Hunter had spoken about how policies could not go outside of state law.
And if you do charge (copy fees) replied Director Honeycutt, it can only be a certain way; a complicated way added board member Van Shaver. Chair Tate asked if a policy was needed and the Director replied, there was one already.
Board member Scott Newman turned to board member Van Shaver and asked, what's the big deal about signing the form. Shaver replied, "It's the principle" as Mr. Newman said something under his breath and frowned.
The public's right to know about how government works is fundamental in a democratic process. Not to mention, it's also the law, Mr. Newman.
NOTE: School Board policy 1.407 will still require Board action. The wording should be changed to comply with state law.
School Board Records Policy 1.407