Mixed Decision Ends Public Records Fight

A Loudon County Chancery Court judge ruled Friday that citizen-activist Pat Hunter was not willfully denied access to public records by Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp.

Chancery Court Judge Frank Williams quickly dismissed motions by both sides for summary judgment and dismissal, and began almost four hours of testimony.

Although Williams ruled against Hunter’s contention that Arp had deliberately denied her access to records, the judge did find that Arp had violated an interim order earlier this year when he required Hunter to fill out a form to view public records.

The mixed decision brought an end to a yearlong battle between Hunter and Arp’s office over the right to view public records. Hunter filed the lawsuit against Arp last year after she said she was denied access to a study of county wages and salaries.

“All I wanted to do was look at the records,” Hunter said. “It should not have taken a year to get to this point.”

Williams also ruled that Arp’s office should pay for court costs. Hunter said she might request through appeal that the county pay her legal fees.

Williams previously had ruled that it was legal for Arp to charge a fee for copying public records, that the fee could include the cost of the clerk’s time.

Williams had also ruled that Hunter should not be forced to fill out a form to view public records.

Hunter says she was asked to fill out the form by Arp’s assistant, Brenda Bright, in a public records request made in March, after the judge had signed an interim order preventing use of the form by Arp’s office.

In Friday’s ruling, Williams did not agree that Arp had willfully withheld access to the records but that that his assistant had violated the order. No penalty was assessed for the violation.

Loudon County Attorney Robert Bowman insisted that the dates of the alleged violation of the order and the dates the order went into effect are in dispute.

“We do not think Ms. Bright violated the order,” Bowman said. “There was a lot of information presented to the court. It’s possible the judge made a mistake on the dates.”

Bowman added, “We are going to check the dates again and we may appeal the judge’s decision.”