Access to public records discussed at Piedmont council meeting
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Mar 20, 2013 | 4751 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The topic of access to public records wasn’t on the agenda for the Piedmont City Council meeting Monday, but one council member brought discussion on the matter to the forefront.

First-term council member Brenda Spears proposed two motions to increase public access to municipal documents, both of which were passed. The first of the two requires that all meeting minutes be posted to the city’s website and the second requires the city to produce detailed financial reports to council members at each formal meeting.

Spears was in the process of offering a third measure when Mayor Rick Freeman stopped her and said the council would hold a work session to discuss her proposals before they were voted on. After the meeting Freeman said he and council members were unfamiliar with Spears’ other motions when they were proposed.

“I’m just going to go ahead and stop it right here. We’re going to have a work session,” Freeman said. “We’re not going to leave until everything is done.”

Freeman scheduled a work session for 5:30 p.m. April 1 in order to discuss fees for accessing public records and municipal debt. He said he favors changing the way people are charged for access to public records.

The current fee schedule was instituted during the past administration, he said. He favors removing the fee for small requests, e.g., 10 pages or fewer, but would like to keep a fee for processing and printing municipal documents if a resident requests a substantial number of documents.

Spears said the current fee schedule requires residents, including city officials, to pay $20 per hour for time spent retrieving documents and a dollar-a-page fee.

Several weeks ago the city began requiring residents to make a request to be placed on the agenda before speaking at a city meeting, but former Mayor Charlie Fagan was permitted to speak at the meeting without taking that step.

The former mayor took the opportunity to protest the fee for obtaining public documents. Fagan said the fee did not exist when his mayoral term ended about five years ago. He said it should be eliminated to ensure the government is transparent.

Fagan said it was particularly detrimental to the city to charge council members such as Spears for access to public records. He said during his tenure public officials regularly made use of public records free of charge to do their work.

“The only way you can run this city is to get public records,” Fagan said. “If you’re going to charge yourself to get those documents to do your job, it’s crazy.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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