Petition Targets Records Policy
Mayor: Fee for public-info access an 'attention-getter'; no one has been charged
That part of his new public-records policy was just an "attention-getter,'' Arp said Thursday afternoon. He said nobody has been assessed any fee. Still, he said, he wants requests for the county's accounting and purchasing records to be made in writing and given to his office.
Arp said he established the policy shortly after taking office after the previous administration was dogged by time-consuming requests for county records - some containing employees' Social Security numbers.
"I'm not going to jail for somebody wanting somebody's privacy information,'' Arp said.
Phil Harber, a Clinton attorney, filed the Chancery Court petition for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on behalf of three Loudon County residents.
"This should not have been necessary,'' Harber said of his legal action on behalf of Pat Hunter, Joanne Turner and Aileen Longmire.
"They really don't want to make a big old fight out of it,'' Harber said of his clients. "They just want the records.''
The petition seeks a judgment declaring Arp's public-records access policy invalid.
A show-cause hearing on the Harber's petition is scheduled for Dec. 4 before Chancellor Frank V. Williams.
Arp's written policy:
Arp's policy is a "knowing and willful bad faith violation of the Open Records Act,'' according to Harber's legal challenge.
State law doesn't allow a county to require that all requests to inspect public records be made in person "and to the county mayor,'' the petition states.
According to the state's attorney general, local governments can't charge for employees' time spent fulfilling a public-records request, Frank Gibson said.
Gibson is executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. That alliance of media, citizens and legal professionals seeks to preserve and improve public access to government records and meetings.
"The attorney general says the only thing the law and the Tennessee Supreme Court has said is allowable under Tennessee law is the cost of the copies,'' Gibson said.