Loudon commissioners defer action on records plan


By HUGH G. WILLETT, knoxnews.com February 7, 2007

Loudon County commissioners have joined citizens in expressing continued concern about Mayor Doyle Arp's proposed procedures for accessing and copying public records.

Arp didn't attend Monday's meeting, where commissioners cited possible legal problems with Arp's plan to charge citizens for copies. They moved quickly to defer action until next month.

The commission plans to turn the mayor's seven-page proposal over to the County Technical Assistance Services for legal review.

The latest plan aims to address concerns expressed by citizens about the cost of copying records. It allows up to 24 pages per month at no charge and extra pages at a cost of 7 cents per copy. The previous plan charged 25 cents per copy plus a sliding fee of up to $23.47 per hour for the cost of a county employee.

"I've got an opinion from another attorney who feels there are problems with the resolution," Commissioner David Meers said. "I also believe we need to make the process more friendly to the public."

Commissioner Bob Franke said he's received many calls on the new resolution, "even more than when we raised taxes."

Rather than debate the cost of copying records, Franke said the goal should be to make all public records available on the Internet.

Several citizens insisted on speaking about Arp's policy despite commission's deferral of the matter.

"I think its unfair that all these people came here to address the issue," said Pat Hunter, who along with two others filed a Chancery Court petition to keep the mayor from enforcing the new policy. Hunter said past attempts to restrict access to public records always have been opposed.

Loudon County resident Shirley Harrison, who wrote a letter to all the commissioners asking them to vote against the mayor's proposal, said there is more to the issue than simply the cost of making copies.

Citizens would still have to make a formal request of the mayor's office to get access to the records, she said.

"This is still dictatorship and censorship," Harrison said. "It's intimidating to make citizens have to get the mayor's permission to look at public records."