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Thanks to Carol Scott for being a voice of reason on Sunset Beach Town Council.
The council is considering implementing a policy that would regulate how the town deals with public records requests.
Among items included in the proposal is a form that would require each person to provide detailed information including name, contact information and specific public records information requested.
North Carolina public records law makes it illegal for an agency to require any person to divulge that type of information when making a public records request. Why then would Sunset Beach council, led specifically by town administrator Gary Parker, think this is a good idea?
Councilwoman Karen Joseph said town employees dealing with phone calls “disrupts what they’re trying to accomplish on a day-to-day basis.” Well, guess what, Ms. Joseph? What those employees already do on a day-to-day basis is work for the people who pay their salaries—the taxpayers. And if taxpayers want access to public records, it’s the duty of each official record keeper to provide those records to the public—as part of their jobs.
Further, it’s not the public’s responsibility to write down information about requests to ensure they’re handled properly. That’s another responsibility of the town’s employees who are responsible for the public records.
It’s a shame to see a council member publicly working to defend the system instead of working toward what’s best for the community served—and what’s in the best interest of open and transparent government.
Sunset Beach should be doing whatever it can to make sure it’s easy for the public to get access to records that rightfully belong to them, not coming up with a policy of hoop-jumping.
Also, it’s a shame the council finds one citizen such a hassle that it’s willing to go to such lengths to put a policy in place to deal with him.
As far as we’re concerned, Rich Cerrato’s 24 requests in more than three years isn’t excessive or problematic. As a matter of fact, we’d like to see more citizens in more towns challenge public agencies that way, that frequently. More, if they can.
We often make public records requests in the form of an official letter because we choose to do so. Until and unless the law mandates we complete such forms, it will not be our policy to fall in line. As a matter of fact, we have previously declined several agencies’ requests to do just that out of the principle of the matter. We encourage other citizens to refuse to do that as well.
We’re glad, at least, this proposal was tabled for now. It clearly needs further evaluation. We hope Ms. Scott continues to be the voice of reason and other council members look at this while thinking about what’s best for constituents, not what makes things easier on town employees.
And for those members who don’t stand up for the public’s right to know, we hope voters speak loudly and clearly come election time in November.