7/19/2018 11:26:00 AM Council approves revised public records request policy
by PATTI STOKES
SUMMERFIELD - Until recently, every public records request submitted to the Town of Summerfield was automatically forwarded to the town attorney for review before steps were taken to fulfill the request. According to the town's revised public records policy which was approved at the July 10 town council meeting, attorney review is no longer required, unless the person who possesses the requested public record(s) has a concern about whether the request complies with NCGS Chapter 132. If there are concerns, the town manager will consult with the attorney, or forward the record to the attorney for review or clarification.
During the more than 30 minutes the policy change was being discussed, Mayor Gail Dunham urged the council to table the issue, saying the town should undergo more due diligence, consult with the League of Municipalities, and that the town attorney should be present (the attorney reportedly was absent from the meeting due to having food poisoning). Town Manager Scott Whitaker assured Dunham the town attorney had reviewed the revised policy prior to the meeting and made only one suggestion, which had been included.
Most of the discussion centered on fees for photocopies or CDs and, in some cases, a "special service charge" for fulfilling public records requests. According to the revised policy, "if the manager deems a request involves a special service charge, a cost estimate will be provided to the requester and payment will be collected prior to further processing the request."
Whitaker explained the purpose of the special service charge isn't to make money off the requests, but that some requests require the town's IT person, attorney or other contracted professional to get involved, which drives up the cost.
"We just want to cover the cost that the statutes allow us to recover when there is something special we have to do," Whitaker noted.
The town's previous public records request policy stated that all requests should be in writing and should include the requester's name, full address and telephone number. According to state statute, the town cannot require a requester of public records provide their name, phone number, address, or the reason for their request. The revised policy adopted July 10 does not request the name or contact information for the person making the public records request.