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AP-TN--Public Records Audit,ADVISORY, TN

May 18, 2018

Editors/Producers:

The Associated Press, in partnership with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, USA Today Network Tennessee and the Chattanooga Times Free Press, will be sending the following series of stories for publication over a four-day period beginning Sunday, May 20.

We consider this an important measure of the responsiveness to new laws regarding open records in our state and encourage you to use these stories in accordance with the following scheduled embargo.

Thanks for your attention,

Scott Stroud

News Editor

The Associated Press

___

Please do not publish stories before the appointed dates.

Day 1 - for publication no sooner than Sunday, May 20

Public Records Audit (By Sheila Burke, AP) — Some government agencies in Tennessee are making it difficult for citizens to access public records and, in some instances, violating state law, a newly released audit shows. Open records advocates had hoped that a state law that passed in 2016 would make it easier for people to access information that should be publicly available to citizens.

suggested headline: Audit: Agencies make it difficult to get public records

length: 685 words

byline: Sheila Burke, The Associated Press

Public Records Audit-Policies (By Sheila Burke, AP) — A newly released audit has found that some government agencies in Tennessee are violating a state law requiring them to adopt a public records policy. Public records advocates had hoped that the passage of a law would usher in a new era of government transparency. However, an audit by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government said 15 percent of all government agencies that were contacted would not provide a policy.

suggested headline: Audit: Some agencies are violating public records law

length: 281 words

byline: Sheila Burke, The Associated Press

Day 2 - for publication no sooner than Monday, May 21

ID REQUIREMENTS — 84% of the 259 policies examined state that a Tennessee driver’s license or some other form of identification is required to inspect or receive copies of public records. How does this slow down access to records, or inhibit it, and why are government entities requiring it? Is identification required each time a request is made, no matter the context or the obvious identity of the requestor? Most other states do not require ID, even if their law is similar to ours in that they are not required to fulfill requests to non-citizens. What do members of the governing bodies, who adopted this policy, think about this rule?

suggested headline: Audit: Many government entities require Tennessee ID to access public records

length: 970 words

byline: Natalie Allison, The Tennessean

CONTACT INFORMATION — The new state law requires that policies include the name or title of the person who coordinates public records requests for the entities, and contact information. Many, but not all, of the policies examined included the name/title of the person and a phone number (84. Fewer, however, included an email address (50%). The law was updated last year to clarify that government entities must accept public records requests by email.

suggested headline: Audit: Most policies give phone number, but not email contact for public records

length: 278 words

byline: Natalie Allison, The Tennessean

Day 3 - for publication no sooner than Tuesday, May 22

CELL PHONE PICS — (By Matt Lakin, Knoxville News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK) From Mountain City to Memphis and Clarksville to Chattanooga, local government agencies follow conflicting, contradictory — and completely arbitrary — rules on whether residents can take cellphone pictures of the records they helped pay to create. Just 5 percent of cities and counties — and no school systems — out of 258 agencies across the state surveyed by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government in a public records policy audit have policies that specifically allow requesters to shoot photos of records rather than pay for copies.

Nearly half of the agencies — 48 percent — ban use of personal equipment outright.

suggested headline: Cellphone pics expose new front in public-records debate

length: 820 words

byline: Matt Lakin, Knoxville News Sentinel

KNOX COUNTY — (By Matt Lakin, Knoxville News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK) Want a copy of a public record at the City County Building? Just whip out your phone and snap a photo. Don’t try that across the street at the Andrew Johnson Building. Knox County Schools policy specifically forbids taking pictures of records. The contradiction between city, county and school system in Knox County illustrates the inconsistency of public records policies around the state on what advocates say ought to be a simple issue — the right to photograph a public document with the camera most Americans carry in their pockets.

suggested headline: Knoxville governments illustrate inconsistency in public records photo policy

length: 405 words

byline: Matt Lakin, Knoxville News Sentinel

Day 4 - for publication no sooner than Wednesday, May 23

FEE WAIVERS — The Tennessee Public Records Act is adamant that public records should be available. But that doesn’t mean government entities will make them affordable. A statewide examination of 259 local government public records policies by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government found that while almost all stated the government entity will charge for copies of public records, fewer offered the possibility of fee waivers.

suggested headline: Fewer governments adopt fee waivers for public records for the “public good”

length: 1143 words

byline: Judy Walton, Chattanooga Times Free Press

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