Open Records Counsel Fielding Multiple Inquiries

More than 1,200 people contacted the Office of Open Records Counsel during the past year and most of them were government officials, according to a recent report.
The annual report shows 1,213 inquiries, all but about 100 dealing with access to public records and the remainder with interpretation of the state’s open meetings law. A majority of the inquiries, 628, came from government officials while average citizens contacted the office 492 times.
Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and member of an advisory council that works with the office, said the figures are significant because they show the office is working as envisioned when created in 2008.

“Five hundred citizens called for advice and guidance on public records and open meetings. Until 2008, those people had no place to go for that type of information,” he said.
State and local government officials did have a place to go – government attorneys and other officials – but that was a more time-consuming and inefficient process, he said.
Most public officials “want to do the right thing. They just want to find out what the right thing to do is,” he said.
Elisha Hodge, who serves as the open records counsel, also made multiple presentations to groups interested in open records and has issued advisory opinion on what is covered – and not covered – in state laws on providing government information to citizens.
Eight opinions were added in the past year to the 21 posted on the website from prior years. The year covered by the annual report runs from Feb. 28, 2010, to March 1, 2011.
Operating the office is “some of the best money spent in state government,” said Gibson. The office has a budget of about $100,000 per year.

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