City's Proposed New Public Records Access Ordinance To Undergo More Revisions

July 3, 2007
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Mayor and Board of Aldermen Monday night delayed passage of a proposed new ordinance governing access to public records, until some changes are made in it, as requested by Alderman Tonya Sullivan.

The new ordinance, reviewed by the Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, basically sets fees for making copies of records requested by the public.

All the proposed changes recommended by Sullivan are contingent upon a legal review by City Attorney John Pryor and MTAS.

Questions have arisen concerning the legality of certain portions of the city's existing ordinance. That ordinance is expected to be repealed, upon passage of a new ordinance. Sullivan is asking that all fees that have been charged to citizens under the existing ordinance be refunded, upon it's repeal.

Under the proposed new ordinance, \"Copies of open records that are requested during regular business hours are required to be provided the requester, within a reasonable time at a cost of twenty five cents per page, unless otherwise excepted in the ordinance. Fees for items such as, but not limited to, cd roms, computer disks, and audio/video cassettes, will be charged at the rate paid for such items by the city. All fees and charges for records shall be due and payable at the time such costs are incurred. City staff may require pre-payment of fees and charges for copies where the fees and charges would exceed twenty dollars.\"

Sullivan wants to change that paragraph in the ordinance by defining \"reasonable time\" as \"one business day\", deleting the passage of the ordinance that makes reference to \"copies being twenty five cents per page, unless otherwise excepted in the ordinance,\" and inserting a new sentence that states \"all copies should be twenty five cents per page, no exceptions.\" Sullivan also wants the ordinance to be specific as to the fees to be charged for cd roms, computer disks, and audio/video cassettes and she suggests that the fee be one dollar per item

The proposed new ordinance states \"Removal of original open records, including personnel records, from the offices of the city is strictly prohibited.\"

Sullivan wants a section added to the ordinance stating that the Code, Charter, Resolution, and Ordinance books should be readily available and in visible sight to the public. She says an area should be designated so that citizens would be encouraged to get involved. Sullivan says these items should never be concealed in a drawer and the public be denied access.

The proposed new ordinance further states \"If copies of personnel records of city employees are requested, the City Recorder, or other city staff authorized by the City Recorder, shall notify the employee, for whom the records are requested, which documents have been copied, and to whom they have been provided. The employee shall be notified that the information has been requested within 48 hours.\"

Sullivan says the City Recorder (Burnace Vandergriff) should not bear the responsibility of notifying employees that personnel records have been requested. She says the Mayor should be the person completing this task. Sullivan says the City Recorder has no authority over this task.

According to the proposed new ordinance \"Accident Reports provided by the Smithville Police Department shall be provided to anyone requesting the reports at a cost of four dollars per report. The city has determined that this is a reasonable charge, inasmuch as it is the same amount that is charged for such reports by the Tennessee Department of Safety under state law, and other cities in Tennessee.\"

Sullivan doesn't agree with charging the public $4.00 for copies of accident reports. She says accident reports should be the same twenty five cents per page as all other public city documents. She adds that Cookeville charges two dollars for accident reports but that they are free in Gainesboro, Shelbyville, Watertown, and Lebanon.

Under the proposed new ordinance, \"It shall be the policy of the City of Smithville to cooperate fully with any Tennessee resident requesting the right to inspect and/or receive copies of open records at a reasonable charge; however, the city staff is prohibited from undertaking research projects to place records requested in any other form than normally maintained by the city, unless the requester agrees to pay for changing the form.\"

The proposed new ordinance states that \"The law provides that the city may stipulate that requests be received during regular business hours, and the city staff shall have a reasonable time to comply with requests for information.\"

\"The City may not provide copies of public records that violate an individual's right to privacy as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.\"

\"The City has the right ti charge a reasonable charge for reproducing or copying records.\"

\"The City has the right to verify that the requester of information is in fact a Tennessee resident.\"

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