One of the responsibilities of public employees in a government office is to be able provide records upon request to the people who pay the employees’ salaries. For the most part, that would be us.
We the people of North Carolina pay for the buildings, computers and security systems used to protect and store public records. We also pay the salaries and benefits of the people who maintain those records.
So any fees we face for requesting copies of those records should be minimal, at best. Certainly not to the tune of $26 an hour, as the town of Middlesex has demanded. Or $54 an hour, a charge established by Gov. Pat McCrory’s office.
Those exorbitant charges cut the heart and soul out of North Carolina’s Public Records laws.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has written a memo to McCrory, arguing that the kinds of fees the governor is charging violate the spirit of the law. Cooper should know. As a state senator from Nash County in the 1990s and early 2000s, Cooper was one of the chief architects of North Carolina’s Public Records policy.
McCrory has complained that his office has been swamped by vaguely worded requests from reporters for internal memos and correspondence. “We want to see every email your office has received since January 2013,” one request might read.
The governor has a point, but he also has a responsibility to help members of the public find what they’re looking for. There can be little doubt that the governor’s office receives hundreds of emails every week. That’s a huge volume, but it’s one that computers can readily sort, given enough information.
Establishing a process to make sorting easier would alleviate a lot of stress for the governor’s office and for reporters and interested citizens. And it shouldn’t come at a cost of $54 an hour.