7/12/2018 3:14:00 PM Mayor's public records requests mounting
Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham has received 10 public records requests for copies of her town business-related emails; as of July 11, none have been fulfilled
by PATTI STOKES
SUMMERFIELD - Since April 26, the Town of Summerfield has received 10 public records requests for copies of either specific, or all of Mayor Gail Dunham's emails relating to town business since she was sworn into office last December.
As for those requests being fulfilled, "As far as I know, nothing has happened," Town Clerk Lance Heater told the Northwest Observer on July 11.
According to the town's Public Records Request (PRR) policy, all requests must be in writing, be dated and specify the information being requested and the format the requestor would like the information when the request is fulfilled (i.e., electronic or hard copy).
When he receives a PRR, Heater said he acknowledges receipt of it and opens a file for the request the same day. Effective with the July 10 town council meeting, when the council voted to revise the town's PRR policy, Heater forwards the request directly to the "custodian" of the record (i.e., the town council or staff member who must provide the information requested). If the custodian has concerns as to whether the request complies with North Carolina General Statute 132-6.2(a), which pertains to public records, that person will advise the town manager, who will consult the town attorney or forward the request to the attorney for review and clarification.
The town states that potential responses to a public records request include producing the entire record as requested, denying the request with an explanation, or providing or denying the request in part with an explanation of why it is only partially fulfilled.
On June 19 the Northwest Observer submitted a PRR for copies of Dunham's emails to Summerfield residents that relate to town business and were sent from either of her two known email accounts, or any other email account she uses.
On June 26, Dunham handed a copy of a personal memo citing the town's Public Records Request policy to a Northwest Observer reporter after the special call meeting that evening. In the memo, Dunham wrote that all written requests should include the name of the requestor, the full address of the requestor and a telephone number. The Northwest Observer did provide a telephone number but not a mailing address when it submitted its request, and a mailing address was not requested on the town's Public Records form obtained from its website.
"Friday, June 15, 2018 I received three public records requests, and two had only a phone number for contact, and the phone number was not registered in that same name," Dunham wrote in her personal memo. "This is just one example of inconsistencies. The two with only telephone number should be completed and filed accurately from that person."
Although the contact information Dunham cited may be requested, according to state statute, a person making a public records request is not required to provide his or her name, address, phone number or any identification.
The statute also states that public records must be fulfilled "as promptly as possible," although it does not specify how long a public agency has to respond to a public records request.
According to the UNC School of Government's website, "What constitutes a reasonable or prompt response will depend on the nature of the request and the available personnel and other resources available to the agency that receives the request. A prompt response to a fairly simple records request ranges from immediate, within a few hours, or within a day or two. As the request becomes more substantial, however, and the burden on the custodian becomes correspondingly greater, it seems reasonable to allow the custodian somewhat more time to locate and deliver the desired records... Unless a request is extraordinary, however, a custodian probably should respond within a week or two at most."
Prior to being elected as mayor, Dunham submitted countless public records requests to the Town of Summerfield and frequently criticized town staff and council members for not fulfilling her requests more quickly.