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NCDOT Charging to View Public Records

In what one group is calling a violation of state law, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is charging fees to view public records.  The Southern Environmental Law Center made a request to view public documents related to Governor Pat McCrory’s 25-year transportation plan and a proposed billion-dollar transportation bond.  SELC attorney Kym Hunter says they were told they would have to pay a fee of $468 to view the files. 

Kym Hunter: "We are not going to pay that fee because we don't believe it is legal and we're really concerned about what this means, not just for us, but for the public, generally, about access to public records."

As previously reported by the News & Observer of Raleigh, DOT records manager Sophia Spencer referred to a portion of state law (GS 132-6.2) that deals with fees for providing COPIES of documents, which she says applies to viewing documents as well.  DOT's website refers anyone requesting public records to view  the "Public Records Policy of 2014," which says:

By statute,an agency may charge a special service charge for any request that requires extensive use of information technology or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency. If a request takes more than four hours of clerical or supervisory assistance to fill, the agency may assess a special service charge for the amount of staff time spent over four hours. Staff time spent searching for, locating, collecting, sorting, copying and preparing the records to be produced will count towards the four hour threshold. The special service charge shall be in addition to any copying fees.

But Hunter contends that's a violation of state law.  She says DOT seems to be charging them due to an e-mail archiving system that's causing a delay, and points to (G.S. 132-6.1), which states: 

After June 30, 1996, no public agency shall purchase, lease, create, or otherwise acquire any electronic data-processing system for the storage, manipulation, or retrieval of public records unless it first determines that the system will not impair or impede the agency's ability to permit the public inspection and examination, and to provide electronic copies of such records. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require the retention by the public agency of obsolete hardware or software.

Hunter: "This is a concern for everybody.  These charges are really going to limit access to what are public documents and taxpayers really should have a way to review those documents so the administration can run as transparently as possible."

Hunter says SELC is requesting mediation from State Chief Information Officer Chris Estes.  A DOT spokesperson declined to comment.  And the Governor’s office did not make anyone available for comment.  Governor McCrory is expected to lay out his vision for state government in his “State of the State” address Wednesday night, February 4th.  (The Southern Environmental Law Center is an underwriter with WCQS)

*To hear the full interview with SELC attorney Kym Hunter, click the audio link above*

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