Mayor Rogero's Comments on Tennessee's Public Records Act

Communications Director

Eric Vreeland
evreeland@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-3480

400 Main St., Room 654A
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Mayor Rogero's Comments on Tennessee's Public Records Act

Posted: 09/14/2015
Mayor Madeline Rogero today submitted the following statement to the State of Tennessee’s Office of Open Records Counsel, in response to a call for comments on a proposal to permit governments to charge citizens for inspection of public records under the Tennessee Public Records Act.

“I am opposed to amending state law to allow public records custodians to charge for inspection of public records. Such charges could create an obstacle for citizens seeking information about their own government. We in public service must be transparent in our actions and decision-making, and that includes providing easy and free access to public records. 

It should be noted that there are real public costs to providing access to records in compliance with the Tennessee Public Records Act – even if those records are just for inspection rather than for copies. Given the volume of records – physical and digital – now being produced, and the need to protect certain kinds of information (e.g., health records, Social Security numbers), it can take many hours of staff labor to comply with a relatively simple records request. 

City departments have devoted hundreds of hours during the past four years to fulfilling requests for copies or review of legal documents, e-mails, personnel files, and many other forms of public records. We have never refused or hindered access to those records, but some of the requests have been so voluminous that they have interfered with the ability of staff to do their other daily work.

Sometimes information requests are worded more broadly than necessary to produce the information being sought. In those cases, we try to work with the requestors to clarify the requests in ways that give them the information they want but limit hours of unnecessary labor.

As public officials, we accept our responsibility to be open and transparent. We also encourage members of the media and the general public to act responsibly in utilizing the provisions of the Public Records Act, bearing in mind that the real costs of compliance are borne by Tennessee taxpayers.

These are complicated issues, but the simple answer is that public records should be available for inspection at no cost.”

For more information about the Office of Open Records’ request for comments and upcoming public hearings on the issue, see https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/openrecords.