More funding approved for Office of Open Records Counsel

The Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee voted today to approve $264,000 requested by Comptroller Justin Wilson to add two positions to the Office of Open Records Counsel.

Wilson told the committee that the numbers of inquiries to the office have grown “exponentially” since it was created in 2008. With one person in the office now, it can not meet the demand, he said.

Comptroller Justin Wilson

Comptroller Justin Wilson

“The numbers really don’t show the growth here because the issues have become extremely more complex, more difficult, more controversial and have a higher profile (that’s) really developed in the last eight years,” Wilson said. “We simply don’t have the capacity to deal with all the demands that are put on this office.”

Wilson noted that a performance audit done by his office showed that the office was not “meeting our statutory duty to expeditiously deal with all the inquiries.” (See: Inquiries went unanswered at Office of Open Records Counsel).

He said the office is vacant right now but he had assigned his third-highest ranking person in the Comptroller’s Office, Ann Butterworth, to serve in the role.

State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, asked if the comptroller’s office had considered reallocating resources, considering it had more than 50 open positions, and questioned specifically about at least one position. Wilson said that was possible, but it would impact the function of the other positions.

State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, noted that inquiries had tripled since the office was created, and said the office provides help for citizens in obtaining public records, but a short staff creates delays. “I think this office provides a great form of transparency for our government,” Ketron said.

The office’s annual report to the General Assembly last year noted more than 1,800 inquiries, with about 50 percent coming from citizens, 40 percent from government entities and 10 percent from media.

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