According to WRAL, Attorney General Roy Cooper is pressing Gov. Pat McCrory to roll back “special service charges” imposed on certain requests for public records.
Maybe he should first pressure his own office to do so.
Under the policy, such charges are incurred “for any requests that require agency personnel more than 30 minutes to locate, copy and refile,” Cooper wrote to the governor on Jan. 28. The special charge includes both the physical costs of making copies as well as cost of the salaries and benefits of the state workers involved in making the copies.
“I believe these policies violate the spirit and perhaps the legislative intent of the North Carolina Public Records Act,” Cooper wrote to McCrory on Jan. 28. Cooper also notes that some counties have begun charging similar fees, a practice his office is discouraging.
In November, the Civitas Institute asked for public records in electronic form. The response we got from Roy Cooper’s office ended by saying:
Please also note that we charge a copy fee with the first 20 pages free and 5 cents a page after that. I will provide you with an invoice once we know the total page count.
NoelleNoelle Talley Public Information Officer Attorney General Roy Cooper N.C. Department of Justice
I don’t think that will be possible since we will have to print emails that require redaction of non-public information.
Thanks,Noelle Noelle Talley We replied, citing the relevant law.
After other exchanges, we summed up the situation in an email:
In your response on November 5, you wrote that there would be a charge for providing copies of the emails. We responded that we were not requesting copies, only electronic versions which normally come free of charge. You responded that it would not be possible to provide electronic copies, since the emails could only be redacted by making physical copies.
To your contention that the Department of Justice can only redact messages by printing out the emails and then redacting them by hand, we say that the cost, by statute, may not be transferred to us. GS 132-6 clearly states that the cost of separating confidential material is to be borne by the Department of Justice. How the DOJ chooses to do that is legally of no concern to us.
GS 132-6.2 holds that public records may be “obtain[ed] in any and all media in which the public agency is capable of providing them. No request for copies of public records in a particular medium shall be denied on the grounds that the custodian has made or prefers to make the public records available in another medium.” As we understand it, we have previously requested and are requesting electronic versions of emails that have heretofore been provided free of charge. Therefore, there should be no fee since we are not requesting physical copies.
In the DOJ’s “Guide to Open Government and Public Records,” Attorney General Roy Cooper wrote: “When in doubt about how to interpret the state’s open records … always work to resolve the question in favor of openness.” We have previously been impressed with the Department of Justice’s cooperation and assistance, but this latest exchange seems not to comply with the state laws regarding transparency and open government. We are concerned by this development and hope to resolve this matter soon.
It seems that though Cooper is asking for McCrory to be more open to public records requests, he doesn’t hold his own staff to the same standards. On Feb. 7, we did finally get the records we asked for — after having to follow up every Monday asking about the status of our request.