Knoxville: Proposed records fee met with public backlash

WATE-TV's coverage of the Knoxville public hearing on the proposal to charge fees to inspect public records.

WATE-TV’s coverage of the Knoxville public hearing on the proposal to charge fees to inspect public records.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that almost all of the 30-plus speakers at the public hearing on fee proposal held in Knoxville spoke against it. The room was packed with more than 80 people, some standing along the walls. Extra chairs were brought in.

See news stories about the hearings:

WATE (video): Should you have to pay for public records that your tax dollars have already paid for?

Knoxville News Sentinel: Proposed records fee met with public backlash

WBIR: Room packed with opinions on possible fees for public records

An excerpt from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Those who spoke against the inspection fee Tuesday complained that taxpayers are already paying for the records and shouldn’t have to pay again to inspect them. They also argued the levy would keep citizens, especially those who are financially disadvantaged, from accessing public information and would also allow governments to keep documents hidden under the guise of large fees.

In 2011, the state estimated the cost of inspecting records would come to about $1.7 million, News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy said at the hearing. McElroy, who is also president of the Tennessee Press Association, said that burden would likely be carried primarily by newspapers “whose role and responsibility is to monitor the workings of government.”

Meanwhile, he said, newspapers in recent years have uncovered millions of dollars in government waste that far exceeds the cost agencies absorb when compiling the records.

Kim Lauth, with the Knoxville chapter of the League of Women Voters, compared the inspection fee to a poll tax, which creates a barrier to keep citizens from accessing their government. Renee Hoyos, with the Tennessee Clean Water Network, said access to public records, particularly permits issued by the state, is vital to the work her organization does.

A handful of public officials and records custodians said they favored a fee, especially for “unreasonable” and “harassment” requests. A Bristol City Schools official said they are “held hostage” by requests such as the one sent by a parent angry that his or her child wasn’t seeing enough playing time on the football field. That parent requested to see all of the email communication between coaches, principals and upper-level administration, he said.

Melissa Ogden, spokeswoman for Knox County Schools, rattled off a list of records requests her office is currently handling, including some submitted by the News Sentinel, that she called “an unfunded mandate on our local governmental agencies that we must comply with.”

Still, Ogden said, she does not support placing the financial burden on citizens and instead asked the state to find another way to mitigate large-scale requests.

Jason Mumpower, chief of staff for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury coordinating the hearings, said video from the Knoxville hearing, and other upcoming hearings, will be available later on YouTube.

Another hearing is 10-noon today in Nashville, and 3-5 pm. Thursday in Jackson.

See also: TCOG answers state’s 5 questions on charging fees for public records


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