Sevier Co. officials accused of violating open records law

Sevier Co. officials accused of violating open records law

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"The citizens should be outraged at this," Kim Pierce says. "Anybody should be able to come in and see what their local government is doing and spending money on." "The citizens should be outraged at this," Kim Pierce says. "Anybody should be able to come in and see what their local government is doing and spending money on."

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Reporter

SEVIERVILLE (WATE) -- Sevier County officials are coming under fire for violating the open records law.

Since March, anyone asking to view public records has had to pay $5.00 just to look, but state officials say that's illegal. It also costs $1.00 to copy one page and 50 cents for additional copies.

One woman says Sevier County owes her hundreds of dollars for illegal charges.

Sheriff's candidate Kim Pierce has viewed and collected piles of public documents over the last two years from the Sevier County Mayor's office and the county archives.

"All this started when I started investigating Paul Lintner who was an employee of the sheriff's department, a convicted felon, who worked there," Pierce says. 

"The citizens should be outraged at this," Pierce says. "Anybody should be able to come in and see what their local government is doing and spending money on."

Ann V. Butterworth, director of the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel, issued the following statement:

"Under the Tennessee Public Records Act, a Tennessee citizen may request access to public records. A records custodian may not charge a fee for the citizen to have access to the record for their inspection, unless specifically authorized by state law."

Butterworth's office has received at least four complaints against Mayor Larry Waters' office about the $5.00 fee.

Kim Pierce has officially asked for a refund. "I called and requested my money back. I told Mr. Waters that I felt that they should give me a full refund because they were violating the law."

As of June 30, Sevier County is no longer charging any citizen to pull a public record down for them to see. But, as far as giving Pierce her money back, they haven't decided if they need to.

County Attorney, Jerry McCarter, who heads the records commission did not want to comment on camera, but he tells 6News he is waiting on another outside opinion from the County Technical Assistance Service before refunding any money.

An amendment to the Tennessee open records law passed on July 1, gives records keepers seven days to comply with a request, but they still can't charge for viewing it.

Records custodians can charge "a reasonable amount" for copies. If it takes a county employee more than five hours of research, the county can charge an hourly fee for each additional hour.

6 News checked with some other counties about their fees. None charge just to view files, but Blount and Cocke counties each charge $1.00 per copy.

Knox County charges 40 cents per page.

Jefferson County charges 25 cents per page.

Currently, the state is working to come up with a "reasonable fee" scale for counties to refer to for copies.

Each county is expected to come up with a fee based on its costs to make copies.  

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