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