McCrory to revise contentious public records policy

Posted March 19, 2014

Gov. Pat McCrory holds a news conference at the Governor's Mansion on Jan. 21, 2014

— Gov. Pat McCrory's top lawyer says the administration is working to revise the public records policy for all cabinet agencies after hearing criticism from media companies and attorneys specializing in public records law.

A policy put in place last year by the governor established "special service fees" for public records requests requiring more than 30 minutes of staff time to complete. The move drew the ire of journalists and other open-government advocates across the state, who argued that the rule would result in hundreds of dollars of charges for routine requests and effectively double-bill for records already funded by taxpayers.

"Quite frankly, that didn't sit well, and I get that," McCrory General Counsel Robert Stephens said this week. "So, we're going to make a change there."

Stephens said the new policy would increase that time limit and lower the hourly rate for labor, which is currently equal to the "actual cost of the holder's labor, both salary and benefits." In the case of an agency like the Department of Health and Human Services, that's been about $46 an hour for an IT staffer charged with pulling emails from the state's archive system.

The new policy will apply uniformly to all eight cabinet agencies, McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said.

"What we're going to do now is have something that will be across the board and will be fair and reasonable," Stephens said.

Although the governor's staff is still working on the cost details, they're considering several options, including a flat rate set to the lowest pay scale.

"One of the philosophies is that the charge will not in any case be greater than actual cost of responding to request," Stephens said.

The time limit will also receive "quite a bump up," he said.

The governor's original policy drew from a provision of the North Carolina public records law that allows for special service charges in cases where responding to a request would require "extensive" technical or clerical resources.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who as a state senator in 1995 authored a revamp of the state's public records law, told McCrory in a letter in late January that the governor's records rules "violate the spirit and perhaps the legislative intent" of the law.

Neither legislation nor case law has defined the term extensive. But Stephens said identical language in Florida's public records law prompted an appellate court there in 2008 to uphold a county's definition of more than 15 minutes.

In his response to Cooper in February, he defended the charges as a way for state and local governments to hold down costs in an era of increasingly large requests.

"The number of requests that come in has skyrocketed," Stephens said this week. "The broadness of the requests have been stunning to me."

He said he still has those concerns. But after a conversation with attorneys at Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, a Raleigh firm that regularly represents media outlets including WRAL News, he said he's confident both sides can work together.

"It was really, I thought, a fruitful meeting," Stephens said. "Everybody in that meeting agreed that, in order to make that public records process better, both the requester and the responder need to be part of the process of making improvements."


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  • CherryDarling Mar 20, 2014

    Public records requests should not be free. I don't want to fund anyone and everyone draining state agency/university resources to dig up whatever it is they are looking for. If it's that important, pay up front and if it's THAT serious and the agency/university in question is doing something wrong, I'm sure it will end up in litigation where whatever fees were incurred can be requested to be reimbursed.

  • recontwice Mar 20, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Has it ever occured that more request are the outcome of the right wing suppression policys?By your post I doubt it cause everything is a plot!!

  • goldenosprey Mar 20, 2014

    Information suppression is proof the GOP wants low-information voters.

  • Benjamin Wright Mar 20, 2014
    user avatar

    Amazing, that some people try to politicize public records request. The real question is why doesn't the government put more of these records on the internet where anyone can view them. The politico's, both Republican and Democrat know that what the public doesn't know can't hurt them.

  • Carol Smith Mar 20, 2014
    user avatar

    McCrory didn't do anything right in the first place. Everything that happened last year is a disaster.

  • RDcallsit Mar 20, 2014

    don't get side tracked people. this tyrant and free of judicial reign government is stealing your paycheck and as soon as possible they will be taking your retirement and ss... oh wait a second, they've already started this! what a load this group is. NC will never produce anyone to honestly operate our state government. it's too easy in NC to rob the citizens and apparently from the Governor's chair, it too hard not to do. everyone of NC's past governor's have robbed and stole lied and cheated it's citizens. who cares about this sidetrack item.

  • ncsense Mar 20, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Public records requests didn't start with the McCrory administration. State agencies have been receiving requests for large numbers of records for years. The difference is that past administrations encouraged timely response and didn't allow agencies to charge fees other than the cost of copies.

  • lsdhome Mar 20, 2014

    He needs to revise a lot of his policies.

  • SaveEnergyMan Mar 20, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I'm not sure which article you read, but it sounds to me like he's making it easier than before. Is it enough? - that's another question.

  • rlt197131 Mar 19, 2014

    What many people don't realize is that all these public records requests are actually a concerted movement by the Democrats, and their Leftist progressive groups such as Blue NC, American Bridge, NAACP, planned Parenthood, Progress NC, etc.

    By slamming the agencies with numerous and detailed public record requests, the people who would normally be doing their jobs have to stop and fulfill the requests. Their jobs don't get done, (ie food stamp backlog) and it makes the McCrory camp look bad. All dirty politics, and hurting our citizens.