published Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Discouraging records requests?

People have all sorts of reasons for requesting public records. Usually their reasons are perfectly sensible, though perhaps some people occasionally ask for records out of frivolous motivations.

Even so, as long as a requested document meets the legal definition of a public record that must be open to citizen review, there shouldn't be any governmental attempt to dissuade citizens from viewing those records.

So it is at least a little troubling that the city of East Ridge has implemented a policy that may discourage the public from requesting public records.

Under the new policy, the names of individuals who have filed open records requests with the city are going to be read aloud at City Council meetings.

"I would like to know what people are concerned about and what they are asking public records for -- and who they are," Councilman Darwin Branam said during a recent meeting.

For the record, the information that citizens provide when they file an open records request is itself also public, so apparently the reading of their names at council meetings is legal.

However, East Ridge officials should "be very clear that they're not using it as a means to discourage people from entering requests," said Elisha Hodge, the state comptroller's open records counsel.

The public appropriately enjoys access to many types of important government records. Our citizens should not be subjected to a policy that even has the appearance of discouraging them from exercising that right.

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