Audit: Some agencies are violating public records law

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Some local government agencies across Tennessee have violated state laws that require them to adopt a public records policy explaining how citizens can get public information and make it available to citizens, a newly released audit found.

During an audit that spanned from October 2017 to March 2018, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) surveyed all 95 counties in the state. TCOG looked at 306 entities that included county governments, school districts and cities with a population of over 2,000.

And while most government agencies either provided a copy of their public records policy or had one posted on their website, 15 percent of agencies contacted would not mail or email a copy of their policy after it had been requested, TCOG’s audit found. Nine agencies said the only way to get it was to appear in person. Four said they did not have a policy. But most simply did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting a copy by providing the policy. All of these, TCOG said, are violations of state law.

The Tennessee Legislature passed a law two years ago that required every government entity in the state to establish a written public records policy by July 2017. Each policy was to include details on how citizens can make a public records request, the title or name of the person who could help them get records and contact information for that person.

Public records advocates had hoped that the law would lead to a new era of greater transparency of government.

Of the 259 policies that were obtained, 84 percent included the contact person and a phone number for that person. Some included just a physical address.

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