Letters to the Editor, Oct. 19
Government records: You can see them, but no photos?
Editor’s note: The following letter was written by Jack McElroy, Editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, who serves on the Tennessee Press Association’s Advisory Committee on Open Government.
October 17, 2017
Mr. Lee Pope
Office of Open Records Counsel
Dear Mr. Pope:
I write on behalf of the Tennessee Press Association to request that your office update the Model Public Records Policy to reflect that government entities cannot ban carte blanche the taking of pictures of public records by cell phone cameras.
It has been reported that the chairmen of the General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee – Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Jeremy Faison – have made a similar request as the “Model Policy” relates to state government. We respectfully ask that the model policy be changed to provide more reasonable guidance and that it applies to all entities subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act as well.
We agree with Chairmen Bell and Faison that prohibiting the use of “personal equipment” to make copies in all cases is an unreasonable restriction.
Many of our 125 member newspapers believe any interpretation that gives entities discretion to ban use of cameras violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law on multiple levels, including:
1. Legislation that mandated development of the “model policy" -- T.C.A. 10-7-503 (g) -- states
that each entity’s records policy “shall not impose requirements on those requesting records that
are more burdensome than state law…”
2. The clear language of T.C.A. 10-7-506 gives the “lawful custodian” of records the right to “adopt and enforce reasonable rules” on making copies. Given the TPRA does not ban photographing of records in all circumstances, the seminal question is whether a discretionary ban on that practice is a “reasonable”
3. Section 506 of the TPRA clearly provides for the practice: “In all cases where any person has the right to inspect any such public records, such person shall have the right to take extracts or make copies thereof…while such records are in the possession, custody and control of the lawful custodian…”
4. The policy seems to be at odds with T.C.A. 10-7-505 (d) which instructs courts to protect the legislative intent of the law, which says it “shall be broadly construed so as to give the fullest possible public access to public records.” The Model’s restrictive interpretation of Section 506 seems to counter that intent.
5. Chapter 1179, Public Acts of 2008 created your office and instructed it to consider the practice in question here in establishing the costs of copies of records. T.C.A. 8-4-604 states the OORC “shall consider” …“when large volume requests are involved, information shall be provided in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, including but not limited to permitting the requestor to provide copying equipment or an electronic scanner.”
We would note that while the policy of the Comptroller as it appears on your website forbids use of “personal equipment” to copy, it mitigates the potential burden of that policy with provisions to waive copy fees when they “do not exceed $25.”
We applaud that. The waiver adds the same convenience and efficiency for citizens – as well as for records custodians -- that self-copying affords. We noticed, however, that the Comptroller’s policy does not follow the Model Policy recommended instructions to “indicate under what circumstances, if any, the Governmental Entity will permit requestors to make their own copies or provide their own storage devices.”
I submit these comments as the TPA representative on the Advisory Committee on Open Government and thank you in advance for considering our thoughts.
I hope that you will keep me and other members of ACOG apprised of any developments in this area.
Editor, Knoxville News Sentinel
The Shelbyville promise
To the Editor:
The Shelbyville Police department is advising people not to come to Shelbyville on October 28th. There will be all hands on deck trying to contain the group of white supremacists who plan on demonstrating at the corner of Lane Parkway and North Main.
We all remember Charlottesville and the car driving into the crowd running over people and then
backing over them again. Shelbyville itself is gripped in fear with many stores and businesses closing for that day. Most of the local citizens are now aware of what is about to happen and are choosing whether to stay and stand up peaceably to this tidal wave of hatred or simply stay indoors until it moves on to
Murfresboro that afternoon.
There is one group that is oblivious to the advancing terror. Children are still happily playing and living their lives just like any other fall day. Children are not born hating. The hate groups are converging on Shelbyville to recruit young people and teach them to hate. The people I talked to feel like this reason alone is worth showing up for.
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