It’s a good idea to know what the Tennessee Open Records Act says before making a records request

Tennessee state law required all state and local governments/agencies/public entities to adopt open records policies by July 1, 2017.  The Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and Industrial Development Board of Blount County (IDB) adopted policies that are separate from the general policy adopted by the commission which covers the rest of county government.

My first two records requests made under these new local policies shows some compliance issues, lack of understanding of the opens records law and difficulty in being able to view records.

Request for copies of meeting minutes
I made a request to Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/SMTDA/IDB and the Cities of Alcoa & Maryville, Tennessee (IDB) for copies of SMTDA and IDB meeting minutes.  These are typed records; therefore, one would reasonably think that the meeting minutes should be made available electronically.  In the 21st century these meeting minutes should be available online at no cost.  The Blount County Commission makes its meeting minutes readily available online for free.

Daniels responded, writing that copies of the meeting minutes would be provided in paper form and told me that I (Tona Monroe) could be charged up to $100 for the copies.  With such a large potential cost estimate, I modified my request asking instead for copies of the newly adopted open records policies for the SMTDA and the IDB.  You can read the new policies by clicking the links.

Open records policies not provided willfully
Daniels did not respond to my request and follow up emails pertaining to the open records policies.  I had to write the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, requesting their assistance in obtaining the policies.  Daniels never did provide the open records policies directly.  The OORC sent me the open records policies.  These policies should also be available online.

Think about Daniel’s response to an elected official tasked with the fiduciary responsibility of looking out for you, the taxpaying citizens of Blount County.  He wanted up to $100 to provide copies of meeting minutes and denied providing the open records policies.  Failure to respond constitutes denial under state law.

10-7-503 (3) Failure to respond to the request as described in subdivision (a)(2) shall constitute a denial and the person making the request shall have the right to bring an action as provided in § 10-7-505.

This isn’t the first time that he has treated county commissioners less than professionally.

Request to inspect meeting minutes
With such an absurdly high monetary amount estimate and with Daniels’ failure to respond to my simple request for the open records policies, I went to Blount Partnership (BP)/Chamber of Commerce building to request to inspect the meeting meetings for the IDB and SMTDA. I had already emailed Daniels the time frames for the meeting minutes that I wanted to see but I was made to fill out a form and had to schedule a time to come back and see the records.

Tennessee law: No form required to inspect records
State law prohibits governmental entities from requiring you to fill out a form to inspect public records, yet that is what I required to do in order to see the meeting minutes of the SMTDA and IDB.

TCA 10-7-503 (7)  (A)  (i) A governmental entity shall not require a written request or assess a charge to view a public record unless otherwise required by law.

Viewing open records policies and meeting minutes should be easy but this process was not.

County’s Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC) denied my request
PRRC Jackie Glenn denied my records request to look at the records of information technology (IT) firms and recycling records in the Purchasing Office, saying it wasn’t detailed enough.  After a couple of back and forth emails letting her know that my request wasn’t broad, she then made me schedule a time to inspect the records.  That became an issue as well.

I was finally able to see the records, with all of 40 minutes notice for the appointment, when I emailed the PRRC the state law on records being available for inspection.

TCA 10-7-503.  Records open to public inspection — Schedule of reasonable charges — Costs.

   (2)  (A) All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.

      (B) The custodian of a public record or the custodian’s designee shall promptly make available for inspection any public record not specifically exempt from disclosure. In the event it is not practicable for the record to be promptly available for inspection, the custodian shall, within seven (7) business days:

         (i) Make the information available to the requestor;

When I actually was able to view the records, there was only one IT firm file folder and one recycling folder in the Purchasing Office, along with some purchase orders, showing that it wasn’t a large request.

If you’re going to do a records request, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the open records act and insist the local officials comply with the law.

Records Policies:
Blount County Public Records Policy
IDB
SMTDA

One thought on “It’s a good idea to know what the Tennessee Open Records Act says before making a records request

  1. I noticed neither of those entities have their policies posted on their websites as claimed in their policies. But hey, they also say they were available for inspection in Daniels’ office all along too. Daniels was the designated public records request coordinator for both organizations, electronic requests directly to him are permitted by these policies and state law requires a response from the records custodian within 7 days – which is also Daniels, since these are allegedly kept in his office for inspection.

    So, why is he incapable of doing his job? Maybe one of the SIX administrative assistants working there could handle answering an email…or if they are all too busy, maybe they could actually post their policies on the websites, like their policies say they do.

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