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Attorney general presses governor on open records

Posted February 10, 2014

— Attorney General Roy Cooper is pressing Gov. Pat McCrory to roll back "special service charges" imposed on certain requests for public records. 

Under the policy, such charges are incurred "for any requests that require agency personnel more than 30 minutes to locate, copy and refile," Cooper writes. The special charge includes both the physical costs of making copies and the 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 McCroy on Jan. 28. Cooper also notes that some counties have begun charging similar fees, a practice his office is discouraging. 

WRAL News has paid or tentatively agreed to pay some special service charges under protest. The Associated Press and other news outlets have also encountered and protested the charges. Lawyers for media organizations met with the McCrory administration in the fall, but there has been no resolution to the complaints.

In his letter, Cooper acknowledges that some special charges are allowed by law, although the law is vague and does not clearly define what is allowed.

Writing on behalf of McCrory, General Counsel Robert Stephens picks up this point.

"It was neither the legislative intent nor the spirit of the public record laws to expect taxpayers to subsidize large, time consuming and expensive public records requests that we so frequently receive today," Stephens writes. 

Stephens also chides Cooper for offering his perspective to local governments.

"I do not understand why you believe it to be a proper exercise of your official position as Attorney General to send unsolicited public policy advice on official state letterhead to local governments who have done nothing contrary to state law," Stephens writes. 

In his letter, Cooper suggests that the General Assembly may need to make changes to clarify North Carolina's open records statute. In fact, a trio of state senators filed a bill during the 2013 legislative session. Sens. Tommy Tucker, Thom Goolsby, and Wesley Meredith, all Republicans, filed a measure that would have limited the special charges an agency could have imposed. Staff time, if charged, would have been "computed based upon the minimum wage in this State" under the bill, which never emerged from committee. 

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  • ALECarolina Feb 11, 2014

    OK Pat, fair enough..........now, how much will it cost us concerned citizens to have a look at all those emails that were generated during the time ya'll were hatching the Voter ID law?

    We got the money, now stand and deliver.......Mr. Transparency.

  • Jump1 Feb 11, 2014

    Since we pay taxes already for these services why should we have to pay again.

  • dennis8 Feb 11, 2014

    View quoted thread



    That is the cost of having an open government. This is no different than a poll tax. If the GOP feels they must charge then the fee has to be very small. Also, I hope you are aware that a conservative group has asked UNC for thousands of pages of emails and other records in the recent past. Did not hear the GOP call that a problem.

  • Scott Ryals Feb 11, 2014
    user avatar

    I respectfully disagree with the AG. As a state employee, I have seen first hand were unhappy individuals abuse the Freedom of Information Act as retaliation against an agency. They make broad, unreasonable requests for information that takes several employees days or weeks to compile simply to make the agency do so.

  • mpphilli01 Feb 11, 2014

    Roy Cooper 2016 - Out the Door

  • caronia49 Feb 11, 2014

    Cooper needs to stop running for Gov. Or resign as AG and then he can campaign all he wants to. What a disgrace he is....

  • goldenosprey Feb 11, 2014

    View quoted thread


    Work for free??

    "I'm pretty sure they are there from 9-5 whether we ask for a record of what our tax money is doing or not! Producing records is part of the REGULAR JOB of government. Does Food Lion charge you extra for printing your receipt???

  • HeadsUp Feb 11, 2014

    McCrory, before he took office: We will run the most open, transparent, ethical administration in North Carolina history.

    McCrory, after he took office: If you want to see public records the taxpayers have already paid for so you can follow what we're up to, we're going to charge you a bundle. And we'll provide the records when we feel like it. As you can see, our motives are *transparent*.

  • goldenosprey Feb 11, 2014

    If it had been a republican AG making this point about a cynical, elitist, anticitizen law like this authored by dems, you would be applauding him.

    This is part of the JOB of government, to be accessible and accountable to the goverened. To impose fees like Ticket Master every time we want to know what our "public servants" are doing is vile and egregious.

    Why the secrecy? What are you afraid of?

    North Carolina Attorneys in private practice must provide copies of their files to clients without charge. (Goolsby especially should know this!) Why is government entitled to be more imposing?

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Feb 10, 2014
    user avatar

    That would be the "Running for Governor" Attorney general... LOL. Hey Roy... it costs taxpayer money, and State employees time... therefor there SHOULD be fees. If you want to talk transparency and access to records... go talk with AT Holder, or just about any other agency run by Obama. See how far you get! Be ready to wait.... and wait... and wait.