The High Price of Public Records Under McCrory's Administration
The Gaston Gazette is out with an editorial criticizing Governor McCrory's administration for charging exorbitant fees to citizens and other organizations just to look at public records. The editorial highlights a specific case where the Southern Environmental Law Center requested to see, not copy, Department of Transportation emails and other documents related to McCrory's transportation bond. The cost to view those files? Nearly $500. The bottom line is that while McCrory ran on a platform of openness and transparency, he has governed in the opposite fashion. From the Gaston Gazette editorial,
Technology should make government records more accessible to the public, not less so. But the price of access – long restricted to the actual cost of the materials used to copy documents – is going up under Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. A lot.
The administration’s current “public records policy” has the strong potential to be a public records barrier, allowing agencies to charge exorbitant fees for obtaining what rightfully belongs to the people.
This policy came under scrutiny again regarding a request from the Southern Environmental Law Center merely to see – not copy – Department of Transportation emails and other documents related to McCrory’s proposal for a billion-dollar transportation bond issue. The DOT wanted $468 for viewing rights.
Government officials often find it annoying or time-consuming to fill records requests, sometimes citing staff and budget constraints. But budget problems and inconvenience are no excuse to ignore the foundation of North Carolina’s open-government laws: the right of the people to examine records created by public officials (whose salaries are paid by taxpayers).
Early in McCrory’s term, state agencies began charging news organizations hefty fees for records that had typically involved only the cost of the materials needed to make copies. The state’s Public Records Law allows for a “reasonable” service fee if a request demands an extensive amount of time or involves compiling a record that does not exist in the form requested.