McCrory administration lies again about exhorbitant public records fees

It pays to research before you use the "They do it too!" argument:

On Feb. 7, McCrory’s general counsel, Bob Stephens, fired back, saying, “This administration is committed to transparency, open government, and broad access to public records.” In his letter, Stephens argued that many governmental entities charge more for “extensive requests.” “In response (to large requests), cities like Charlotte and Asheville have instituted special service charge policies,” he wrote.

“We don’t charge for requests, other than occasional costs for duplication,” said Dawa Hitch, the city of Asheville’s public information officer. Carolyn Johnson, a senior deputy city attorney for Charlotte who often handles public records requests, said that the situation is similar in her city.

“We charge our actual costs to copy paper documents – 3 cents a page, because that’s what it costs us,” Johnson said. And most often, she said, public records are delivered to requesters electronically, free. “We don’t charge for the staff’s time (spent gathering records), and not on the IT side either,” she said.

Whether the high charges are due to simple greed or a calculated effort to stifle public records requests, the end result is the same: a hefty pricetag on something we should be able to see for free.


Not greed

It's worse. It's a systematic effort to make sure government is operating in the shadows with little accountability and no transparency. It's the new Republican way.

The Reasoning

I love our public records law. It is broad sweeping and heavily weighted in favor of citizen access. The only hole is that there is no specific requirement for how long the government has to respond to a request.

The problem is that some people have been abusing this openness by requesting insane amounts of records in order to burden and extort governments. i.e. "If you don't give me my permit, I will request every permit application ever submitted over the last 75 years." The Public Records Law doesn't have any "good faith" or volume requirements, so the agency would have to comply. That is a tough position that could cost an office thousands of dollars and effectively it down while going through old records.

I believe in Charlotte, they got a massive request that took months to compile and hundreds of staff hours. The requester never picked it up.

Seems like we ought to be able to deal with problem cases

without penalizing everyone else.


Maybe there is a way, but there isn't anything in the statute. In some states, they restrict access to state citizens or put in administrative "speed bumps" like administrative hearings. In NC, it goes something like this:

Requestor: I want every email sent to or received by your office last year. (There is no requirement that you must identify yourself or say why you want the record.)

Agency: (1) Here they are or (2) No, because of ____ statutory exemption.

Requestor: (1) Thanks or (2) I'm suing you in Superior Court for the documents. Trial is next week. See you there.

That's it. There is little to no discretion or negotiation. UNC tried to protect Butch Davis's personal phone records from disclosure under the Public Records Law. They lost, big.