Sunshine on public records, meetings

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This week around the country members of the press and also the public take time to remind themselves and their communities that everyone has certain access rights to public information and public meetings.
Did you know, for example, that anyone may request public records in North and South Carolina? It’s true, you don’t have to be a public official or a member of the media to request information related to minutes of a commission or city council meeting.
The law in North Carolina explicitly states that public records are open to inspection by “any person” without any need to state their purpose for requesting the records.
In North Carolina, there are no limits on how long it takes for someone to receive records after they are requested, except that it be within a “reasonable” time frame. South Carolina does require that said person receive the records they request within 15 business days.
There can also be fees associated with obtaining copies of records. In North Carolina a department may charge only the actual cost of duplication, not including labor, for uncertified copies. There can be a larger fee associated with certified copies meanwhile.
What you can’t expect to gain access to are items covered under attorney-client privilege, certain tax records, autopsy photos, trade secrets and personal information such as social security numbers.
It’s also crucial to note that it’s to your benefit to exercise your right to attend public meetings of local governing bodies. The officials you elect are thereby “hired” by you and should be held accountable for the decisions they make regarding your community. While the Bulletin staff makes a concerted effort to be at and report on most all of these meetings, it is as equally important for citizens to attend themselves to quickly voice concerns before critical decisions are made.
We encourage each and every one one of you to be a part of bringing light to government by being involved.
— Editorial staff, Tryon Daily Bulletin

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