Loudon Commission to vote on public-records policy changes
By BOB FOWLER, fowlerb@knews.com

January 25, 2007

LOUDON - A revised, more detailed policy governing the access and copying of public records faces Loudon County commissioners Feb. 5.

The proposed seven-page resolution requires residents to fill out a request for information, file it in the county mayor's office and pay a 7-cent per page copying fee.

A sliding fee of up to $23.47 per hour for county employees' time spent making copies of county government documents would also be assessed. For example, the fee for six minutes of copying would be $2.34.

Governments can't charge for the time workers spend fulfilling a public-records request, a spokesman for a public records watchdog group has said.

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, has cited a state attorney general's opinion on the issue.

Charging for copying costs is all that's allowed under state law, Gibson said after the public-records policy dispute first surfaced last fall.

The proposed fee structure reflects Loudon County's actual costs for making copies and includes everything from ink and copy paper to an employee's salary and benefits, according to the resolution.

Days after taking office in September, Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp established a public-records policy that charged 25-cents per page for copies, plus a $25 per hour fee for county employees' time.

That policy still faces a legal challenge in Loudon County Chancery Court filed by three residents who claim they've been thwarted in their efforts to see and copy public records.

Pat Hunter, JoAnne Turner and Aileen Longmire filed a Loudon County Chancery Court petition seeking an injunction to keep Arp from enforcing his original policy.

"I've bent over backwards for Pat Hunter until I'm sore," Arp said of his efforts to comply with Hunter's requests for public records.

Arp said his original policy was sparked by repeated, time-consuming requests for public records from residents he described as members of the "Triple A Club - Always Against Anything."

A hearing on the status of the Chancery Court petition is scheduled Feb. 1 in Roane County.

In an order signed in December, Chancellor Frank V. Williams III ruled the three women must fill out the county mayor's public-records inspection request form.

The chancellor's order also states that there'll be no charge for inspecting records, but the county may charge for copies.

"We don't want to restrict the general public from the records. That's not our intention," Arp said. "Our intention is to keep county employees from working for two days to get information. That's wasting taxpayer dollars