East Ridge to publicize open-records requests

East Ridge to publicize open-records requests

October 13th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

East Ridge Councilman Darwin Branam

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the names of people who have submitted public records requests be publicized?

Public records requests in East Ridge are about to become publicized.

Starting in two weeks, City Council meetings will include a short reading of everyone who has filed an open records request from the city, and what records have been pulled.

In the East Ridge City Council meeting Sep. 29, Councilman Darwin Branam said he had noticed several open records requests in the city's administrative office and wanted to have better tabs on who was making requests and why.

"I would like to know what people are concerned about and what they are asking public records for. And who they are," Branam said.

He then asked City Manager Tim Gobble if he could compile a list of people who make public records requests and include it in his biweekly staff report. "At least let us know what people are looking at, and we can determine whether there's something we need to be included on," he said.

Mayor Brent Lambert echoed that it was a "good idea."

All information a citizen enters to file a request for open records is in itself public, explained Elisha Hodge, who serves as the state comptroller's open records counsel.

However, Hodge said if East Ridge decides to create a public list of people making requests, they need to justify the move to the public.

"[Council] needs to be very clear that they're not using it as a means to discourage people from entering requests," Hodge said Wednesday.

She added that she has never heard of any other city in Tennessee publicizing a list of open records requests.

East Ridge resident Frances Pope, who frequently requests public records, said she is wary of the new measure.

"I don't care if they read my name in a meeting, but reading names publicly could intimidate some people from requesting," Pope said. "It could be good if it's for the edification knowing what citizens are concerned about. ... But I think it could be achieved without reading citizens' names in public."

Gobble said he consulted with Hodge about the legality of reading the names aloud before agreeing to give the presentation.

"From now on I will provide that information until requested otherwise by the council," he said Wednesday. He referred all comment about the motives behind the new practice to the council.

Branam did not return requests for comment Wednesday.