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Watchdog group critiques TN’s proposed open records policy

TCOG-Website-Header-300x125A proposed policy and guidelines about open public records are under fire from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. TCOG has published comments on the guidelines and forms pertaining to the Office of Open Records Counsel’s proposed “Best Practices & Guidelines and Model Public Records.”

TCOG has expressed deep concerns about language that could lead to new restrictions and rules used to block, hinder and delay a citizen’s access to public records.

The Office of Open Records Counsel, in addition to creating a model public records policy, is proposing modifications to the Schedule of Reasonable Charges, model forms and advisory opinions guidelines. In total, nine documents, including three new forms and two new policies, are under revision or are new.

These documents are important because they provide guidance on what is allowed by law in the public records request process.

The main changes proposed have to do with clarifying the public records request/response process. The office is also proposing that it have new discretion on whether or not to issue Advisory Opinions, which must be posted to its website, and instead offer a new type of opinion called Advisory Comment.

After reviewing all nine documents, TCOG’s suggestions included:

  • Rework public records request forms to ensure that citizens’ public records requests received by email are honored.
  • Encourage electronic copies when requested and when a government has capability of producing electronic copies.
  • Rework the records response form to ensure that government entities don’t default to a “mandated” delivery of records by the U.S. Postal Service, which could slow responses to records requests. Instead, encourage electronic delivery when the government has capacity to do so, and the requester asks for this method.
  • Review in more depth the need for changing the process of Advisory Opinions, and the impact of this policy.
  • Define “programming fees” to extract public records from databases, which are now too arbitrarily calculated. Guidelines should be updated to better define what is allowed to be included, and what is not allowed.
  • Ensure that citizens are able to inspect public records during a government entity’s business hours, and not restricted to certain days or times of the week.

Read more about TCOG’s comments and get links to the proposed new forms and guidelines at bit.ly/TCOG-open-records.

TCOG is an organization that seeks to preserve, protect and improve citizen access to public information and open government in Tennessee through an alliance of citizens, journalists and civic groups. Learn more at tcog.info.

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