Judge rules on public records promptness

Beginning of a Deborah Fisher article written for the the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government:

In what may be the first legal challenge to government delays on public records requests in Tennessee under a 2008 law, a judge has ruled that Metro Nashville violated the “prompt” provision in the statute by holding up traffic accident reports.

Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies ordered the city to provide access to the reports within 72 hours of their creation.

He also found that Metro Nashville Police Department’s request form did not comply with the Public Records Act because it stated that the city had “seven business days to process” a records request, which is contrary to law.

Many requesters, including journalists across the state, often complain that government entities slow-walk their public records requests even when the record they seek is readily available. In late 2014, for example, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency in Nashville initially refused to release a document that had been voted upon a few days earlier by a subcommittee of the public agency’s board of directors. The public information officer told the news reporter she had seven business days to release it, which would been after the full board voted on the document.

But the law says differently, which Judge Davies recognized in his order signed last week.