Open Records Counsel begins work on model public records policy

Open Records Counsel Ann Butterworth told members of the Advisory Committee on Open Government last week that she hopes to have a final version of a new model public records policy finished by Dec. 15

A new state law requires all government authorities to adopt a public records policy for their government entity by July 1, 2017, and outlines new requirements that must be included. The legislation also instructed the Office of Open Records Counsel to develop a “model best practices and public records policy”, working with the Advisory Committee on Open Government, that could be used by governing authorities as a guide.

So far, only Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has submitted suggested language for the model policy, as well as general recommendations, Butterworth said in the Monday meeting. She urged other members of the Advisory Committee to make suggestions by Sept. 16 before she develops her draft. After the draft is finished, Butterworth said she plans to submit it to the Advisory Committee for review, as well as make it available online for public comment. The law allows the Advisory Committee to meet and discuss the draft, and submit written comment.

Ann Butterworth

Ann Butterworth

In addition, Butterworth said she wanted feedback and suggestions from Advisory Committee members for changes in any of the Office’s forms, schedules and policies, including the Schedule of Reasonable Charges and the Best Practices Guidelines. She said that forms should be parallel with the new model policy. She also reminded the Advisory Committee of the debate last year about fees for public records, and said labor fees continue to be a hot topic. Butterworth produced a report after a series of statewide hearings to discuss proposed legislation to implement new fees to inspect records. After the public hearings and report, lawmakers pulled the bill from consideration.

The new law requiring entities to adopt a public records policy outlines that the policy must include “the process for making requests to inspect public records or receive copies of public records and a copy of any required request form; the process for responding to requests, including any redaction practices; a statement of any fees charged for copies of public records and the procedures for billing and payment; and the name or title and the contact information of the individual or individuals within such governmental entity designated as the public records request coordinator.:

The law also prohibits policies from imposing requirements on those requesting records that are “more burdensome than state law.”

In other business, the Advisory Committee discussed a separate request by the House State Government Committee to study the issue of law enforcement body cam footage, and access under the Tennessee Public Records Act.


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