Cooper backs the public in objecting to extra fees for records

February 9, 2014 

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory can dress up its attempts to limit access to public records, but it’s still not fooling anyone.

The administration says Cabinet agencies can charge extra to cover the cost of providing copies of public records to citizens. The rule is really aimed, of course, at news organizations. McCrory’s people want to make it as hard as possible for those organizations to take a look at the inner workings of an administration that has made many gaffes.

But the rule affects ordinary citizens, particularly when the copying charges exceed the actual cost. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2016, has nailed the administration, telling McCrory officials that the policy violates the spirit of an open records law he helped to craft. Cooper calls the policy one of erecting “barriers to obtain information they (the people) already own.”

That’s it exactly. Public records are created in the name of the public. They belong to the people. Providing them in the form of copies isn’t doing the people some great favor. It’s serving them.

The governor’s office and its subsidiaries in the Cabinet aren’t just a hotel providing extra towels or room service, which might justify a “special service charge” of the type McCrory’s administration is levying.

How many times does McCrory need to be reminded that he and those under him work for the people, not for the Republican Party? And when the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, errs – and it has erred often in the past year – it’s just too bad if records might prove embarrassing.

Another problem with the policy is that it filters down to local governments, where the resistance to offering public records to the public can be even stronger. The N.C. Press Association has for years documented hundreds of instances in which public information was withheld. That’s one reason the public records law in North Carolina came about.

Now, if only those in charge would follow it.

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