A peek at what’s ahead for the public records hearings

In three weeks, the Office of Open Records Counsel will hold the first of three public hearings on consecutive days in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson to get comments on whether the law should be changed so that citizens can be charged to inspect records.

Louden County mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw told the News-Herald in Lenoir City in a Sunday story that he plans to attend the Knoxville hearing on Sept. 16 and advocate for fees.

He cited a records request from a citizen that cost “$8,000-$9,000 in attorney fees, additional labor costs and other expenses” — expenses he thinks the citizen should have to pay. The citizen who made the public records request, Richard Truitt, followed up in a Letter to the Editor saying, the county had inflated the costs by asking an outside attorney at $250 per hour to review the records requested.

Read the full News-Herald story here, State mulls open records, and the followup Letter to the Editor here, County Government not Open.

The back-and-forth gives us a peek at what’s ahead for the public records hearings. Truitt wrote:

First, my records request only covered about 30 business days.

Second, Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said that my public document “request” resulted in costs of $8,000-$9,000 to the county in attorney fees, labor costs and other expenses.

My request did not result in attorney fees and exorbitant costs to the county. It was Bradshaw’s decision to turn my public document request over to the county’s pricey attorney from Knoxville at $250 an hour that caused the ridiculous expense to the county.

Bradshaw, or his staff at $15 an hour, could have assembled, copied and provided the documents at a tiny fraction of what the attorney billed.

What prompted my request? Loudon County Commission Chairman Steve Harrelson decided to change commission rules on public comment at meetings and eliminate the separate public comment period at the end of meetings.

I was shocked to find out how much county business is being discussed by email instead of at public meetings and that most commissioners are doing what Hillary Clinton did — using private email accounts to discuss public business.

Recently, I asked to inspect the revised county employee handbook. Bradshaw had the revised handbook and it was on the Aug. 17 workshop agenda, but he refused to provide it until my attorney called Bradshaw’s office.

Bradshaw claims to support open and transparent government, but he supports charging fees to Loudon County residents for inspecting public records. And he refused to provide a public record that he had in his possession.

These are not the actions of someone who claims to be “pro” open government.

If you can’t make a hearing, you can submit comments to comments.open.records@cot.tn.gov.

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