The Carolina Public Press has this piece up boiling down the ongoing issues media outlets in the state have with a new policy under the McCrory administration to charge “special services charges” for public records requests that take more than a half-hour for staff to compile.
From Carolina Public Press, a non-profit news organization based in Western North Carolina:
In the growing dispute over how much state and local government agencies should charge for providing public records, Gov. Pat McCrory‘s top attorney cited Asheville and Charlotte’s policies to justify a rise in fees. But according to staffers in both cities who handle records requests, the two municipalities rarely, if ever, levy extra charges.
At issue is how to interpret part of North Carolina’s public records law, which generally asserts that public records should be available for free or for the costs of duplicating them.
An exception in the law has sparked a debate between N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is expected to run for governor in 2016, and McCrory, a Republican.
In his [Feb. 7] letter, [McCrory legal counsel Bob] Stephens argued that many municipalities, counties and state universities charge more for “extensive requests.”
“In response (to large requests), cities like Charlotte and Asheville have instituted special service charge policies,” he wrote.
Staffers for both cities, however, say that they rarely, if ever, tack on search charges for public records.
“We don’t charge for requests, other than occasional costs for duplication,” said Dawa Hitch, the city of Asheville’s public information officer. In the past four years, she said, she could recall “maybe a few” times when the city charged extra fees for records, and she thinks that such cases are now on the wane.
“Especially in this digital age, we’ve been moving more and more toward open data,” Hitch said, most of the records requested from the city can be readily provided in digital form, at minimal cost. (Editor’s note: In response to our multiple requests in recent years, Hitch’s office has provided thousands of pages of public records to Carolina Public Press, in digital form, at no cost.)
Carolyn Johnson, a senior deputy city attorney for Charlotte who often handles public records requests, said that the situation is similar in her city. “I honestly don’t think we’ve charged extra for even requests that result in a large volume” of records, she said.
Johnson added that other city staff had also responded to records requests, without her involvement, so she couldn’t speak to the details of their work. But, she said, she’d be surprised if extra fees cropped up in fulfilling a public records request.
“We charge our actual costs to copy paper documents — three cents a page, because that’s what it costs us,” Johnson said. And most often, she said, public records are delivered to requesters electronically, for free.
“We don’t charge for the staff’s time (spent gathering records), and not on the IT side either,” she said.
You can read the entire piece here.