Good News Travels Fast

Our brilliant new County Mayor with his willingness to boldly break the law, has brought Loudon County State wide acclaim. Seems his foolish attempt keep his dirty little secrets has struck a cord with the media across the State. Below are the stories from across the state. Our new Mayor has made us proud.

 

Your Hub Knoxnews.com Knoxville

What Price, Freedom of Information?
 

Contributed by: Ann Hinch on 9/22/2006

So, what should a government office charge to make copies of public records?

For anyone who's been living under a rock: Lenoir City resident Pat Hunter asked to see Loudon County public salary records. County Mayor Doyle Arp authorized records be available only after employees' personal data had been blacked out. This required copies being made.

Arp wants to charge $25.25 for the 101 pages; Hunter maintains she only wanted to view the information and it's not her fault a county employee had to spend two days censoring data.

"You may be exactly right," Arp told me last week, when I mentioned an Attorney General opinion stating it is government's onus to make public records suitable for inspection, no matter how much labor it takes to do so.

As for that many copies, he added, "I don't think $25.25 would be a lot of money for two days' work."

State law does say a government office may recoup "reasonable costs" of photocopying. Arp said county commission will need to decide a fee Oct. 2, though he believes 25 cents per page is a bargain compared to counties charging 50 cents or $1.

Of course, just because your $250,000 home seems cheap compared to the million-dollar mansions 10 miles away doesn't mean you're not being overcharged (especially if the Kinko's next door would sell your home for $50,000).

Two weeks ago, I conducted an extremely unscientific poll in which I called a few counties' mayor offices without identifying myself to ask what they charge for copies:

Knox County: They don't generally charge. At the Metropolitan Planning Commission, they deal mostly with oversized pages, which run into a few dollars each, but 8 Ĺ" x 11" copies are 25 cents.

Blount County: $1 a page. Yowza!

Sevier County: They don't generally charge, but might if asked for a lot of pages. "A lot" wasn't defined, and neither was a specific charge.

Roane County: The clerk's guess was no charge unless "a lot" of pages were wanted. She guessed 25 cents each, or perhaps a person could bring their own blank paper. "Nobody's ever come in and asked for that many," she mused.

Anderson County: Codes and ordinances are online. The county clerk's office wasn't sure what to charge, since the clerk and main deputy were out that day.

Too, years ago, state statute required each county to form a County Public Records Commission to oversee storing public records for citizen access (or archiving originals in some way before they were destroyed). While Loudon County may have one, nobody on commission can remember who's on it or if they ever met.

Along with fees, commission will take up this matter Oct. 2. "We don't want to let this die on the vine like we did way back," said Commissioner Bob Franke

 

 

WREG TV, Memphis Tennessee

County's New Fee Seen As Restrictive, Expensive


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp has started charging for access to public records.

Fees instituted at Arp's direction on September first include a 25-dollar nonrefundable fee for locating and copying public records and 25 more dollars for each hour beyond the first one. There is also a 25-cent-per-page copying charge.

Arp told a county commission workshop on Monday the charge was aimed at what he called the "Triple-A Club -- Always Against Anything." But Arp says the government isn't hiding records.

Contacted by The Knoxville News Sentinel after the meeting, Executive Director Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says an appeals court ruling and an attorney general's opinion indicate the Loudon County practice is too restrictive.

Gibson says a February 2001 state attorney general's opinion states local governments shouldn't charge a fee to view public records unless state law allows it.

 

The Oak Ridger, Oak Ridge Tennessee

Open Records A Constant Battle; Soldiers Needed

An incident in Loudon County points to a growing problem involving local government officials who seek to make it difficult for citizens to inspect records and documents they are entitled to see under state law.

Doyle Arp, the newly elected mayor of Loudon County, has imposed substantial fees for obtaining public records from his office. Arp [said] heís simply trying to discourage frivolous records requests from disgruntled residents.

The Loudon County mayor has imposed a minimum nonrefundable fee of $25 to see county documents, plus 25 cents a page for copies. Any requests for a document taking longer than an hour for the courthouse staff to find would result in an additional $25 an hour fee.

Itís obvious that Arp is attempting to dissuade citizens who wish to inspect public documents they have a right to see. Itís also fairly clear he is violating state law in the process.

While the courts have said public officials can charge reasonable fees for copying public records, the University of Tennesseeís County Technical Assistance Service has determined local governments canít charge fees for allowing inspection of a public record or for the time courthouse employees spend helping citizens inspect those documents.

Every Tennessean has a right to request information under the stateís Open Records law. This law, passed in 1957, gives citizens the right to request public documents ranging from police reports to property transfers.

A statewide audit conducted by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government in 2004 found volunteers were denied access to one-third of the public documents requested.

It takes vigilance on the part of representatives of the news media and alert citizens to make sure records that should be open to the public remain open to the public. It is a constant battle, and one that needs more soldiers.

What do you think?

E-mail us at editor@oakridger.com; fax us at (865) 482-7834; or mail a letter to us at The Oak Ridger, 785 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge, Tenn. 37830.

We want to hear from you!

 

The Jackson Sun, Jackson Tennessee

Keep public records open, easily accessible

The actions and attitude of new Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp when it comes to giving residents access to public records are contemptible and should alarm those who care about open government in Tennessee. Loudon County residents should demand easier access to their public records. And Tennesseans everywhere should demand that the current public records law be strictly enforced.An opinion from Tennessee's attorney general says public officials can charge fees for copying public records, provided those fees reasonably reflect the actual cost of making those copies. But according to the County Records Manual produced by the County Technical Assistance Service, the law is very clear on this point: Local governments can't charge fees for allowing inspection of a public record. Nor can they charge for the time government employees spend helping people inspect those records.


Enter Arp, who, as one of his first acts in office, has begun imposing a minimum, nonrefundable fee of $25 for inspecting public records in his office. He also charges 25 cents a page for copying, and a fee of $25 an hour if it takes more than an hour for his staff to research a request.

That's outrageous. So is his reasoning: to discourage frivolous records requests, particularly from a group he calls "the Triple-A Club - Always Against Anything." Who is he to decide which requests are "frivolous" and which have merit? That shows breathtaking arrogance.Clearly, Arp needs a lesson on exactly what the law says. And he needs a reminder of exactly who it is he works for: the people.

Tennessee's public records law is important because it provides citizens with a way to obtain important information they might not otherwise have access to. And it's important because it provides a means for holding elected officials accountable.

Arp doesn't like his opponents. And he doesn't have to agree with them. What he does have to do is provide them, and anyone who asks, with free access to public records. This isn't a matter of running a more efficient office, or of discouraging frivolous requests. It's the law. And it must be enforced.

 

By ANN HINCH, news@knews.com
September 20, 2006

Fees for records in Loudon Co. questioned Mayor's new policy is criticized as too restrictive, unduly expensive

A new fee for accessing public records in Loudon County likely won't stand amid questions about its legality.

Mayor Doyle Arp implemented a new public-records policy shortly after he took office Sept. 1. It includes a one-page form and $25 nonrefundable fee for the labor of retrieving and copying records, plus $25 for each hour worked beyond the first hour. The county also charges 25 cents per page copied.

The policy was directed at county residents whom Arp termed the "Triple A Club - Always Against Anything." It appears to conflict with state law at least in part, however, and Arp said he doesn't expect county commission to uphold the charge for county workers' labor.

"I just did that to slow them down until we could get some civility restored to the office," Arp said at a county commission workshop Monday.

The commission is likely to decide the county's public records policy at its Oct. 2 meeting.

"It isn't like we're hiding (records)," Arp said. He said he never refused to release public information in 26 years as county assessor.

"I think it's my right as an official to ask (employees) to come to my office" to fulfill records requests, Arp said, and to require residents to put those requests in writing.

Lenoir City resident Pat Hunter encountered the policy when she tried to view wages and salaries of county and school employees.

After repeating her request to more than one county official and receiving only partial information via e-mail, she asked Clinton attorney J. Philip Harber to write to the commission.

Arp said to fulfill Hunter's request, information such as Social Security numbers had to be blacked out on copies and that an employee spent two days preparing 101 pages.

"We don't have staff sitting up here, just sitting and waiting to do that," Arp said. Hunter was charged $25.25, or 25 cents per page, not including the labor charge.

As of Monday's workshop, Hunter hadn't claimed the copies because she said she only asked to view the records.

"We need people to be better informed, not less," Hunter told commissioners.

"This is a bit ridiculous," Harber said in agreement. "I believe the law was very clear that you can't charge labor for public records."

Contacted after the meeting, Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government in Nashville, pointed to opinions and an appeals court ruling that indicate Arp's position is too restrictive.

A February 2001 state attorney general's opinion says "local government should not charge a fee to view a public record unless some provision of state law allows such a fee."

If there's confidential information in a document, an April 2006 opinion states that the record must be made available with the confidential information removed or blacked out.

It does not allow a charge for editing, Gibson said, since that labor is already funded by tax dollars.

And a December 2005 Tennessee Court of Appeals decision said information can't be denied because a resident fails to request it in writing.

"I have some of the same concerns about various aspects" of Arp's policy, Commissioner Bob Franke said at the commission workshop. He said commissioners should protect public access to records.

"You should bend over backwards to make it easy for the public to access records," Commissioner Don Miller said regarding the attorney general's opinions. "Don't put up any bans you don't absolutely have to."

He did, however, say it may be reasonable to charge residents if an employee has to alter records in some way in order to make them public.
 

 

WKRN TV Nashville Tennessee

New Loudon mayor charging $25 to look at public records"

LOUDON, Tenn.

The new mayor of Loudon County has imposed hefty fees for obtaining public records from his office.

Mayor Doyle Arp said he's trying to discourage frivolous records requests, particularly from dissatisfied residents he calls "The Triple A Club _ Always Against Anything."

"We've got a county to run," Arp said. "We aren't running a baby-sitting service."

So as one of his first acts in office, Arp has imposed a minimum nonrefundable fee of $25 to see county documents, plus 25 cents a page for copies. Any requests taking longer than an hour for Arp's staff to research would result in an additional $25 an hour......fee. "We don't have the time to do this," Arp said. "If the (county) commission says they want that done, they can bring somebody in here to do it." Tennessee courts and the attorney general have found public officials can charge fees for copying public records, providing those fees reasonably reflect the actual costs for making the copies. However, local governments can't charge fees for allowing inspection of a public record or for the time government employees spend helping citizens inspect public records, according to the County Records Manual produced by the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service. Arp said asmall group of residents unhappy with the August election results have been making numerous document requests at different county offices. "They're just being nosy," Arp said.

 

Chattanoogan Chattanooga, Tennessee

Loudon County's $25 Public Records Inspection Fee Is Illegal

The press and all citizens should be very concerned about Loudon County's new public records policy initiated by Mayor-Elect Doyle Arp.

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. This policy is contrary to the Tennessee Open Records Law.

This matter will be discussed by county commissioners at the workshop meeting on Monday. The press and citizens are urged to attend.

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