RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed guidelines for handling public records requests make clear his state agencies cannot charge more when there’s extensive work required to comply with a request.
The Cooper administration is seeking feedback by April 9 on the draft guidelines, which also state records cannot be withheld or their release delayed simply because immediate disclosure “would not be ‘prudent or timely’ or cause embarrassment.”
The guidelines stem from a legal settlement reached last summer between Cooper’s administration and media outlets and public policy groups that had sued predecessor GOP Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015. They had accused McCrory’s administration of document delays and excessive costs for getting them.
At the time, McCrory’s spokesman said the governor was committed to filling records requests but that media and political groups had been filing frivolous and duplicative applications.
In particular, the lawsuit complained about “special service charges” that McCrory’s agencies had been required when locating, retrieving and copying records took longer than 30 minutes. Cooper, a Democrat, became the chief defendant in the case when he succeeded McCrory. The Cooper administration said it had not requested such charges.
“State employees and officials conduct the people’s business,” the guidelines read. “Our responsibility rests with following the law and providing members of the public with the information to which they are legally and ethically entitled.
The guidelines, released late last week and first reported on by the The Insider news service, say agencies may charge a recommended 5 cents per page for copying records. But the guidelines say “no fees may be charged for inspecting public records or records produced electronically.”
As for government boards and commissions, the guidelines state the public is entitled to know a meeting is scheduled and has the right to see the meeting agenda and documents. “This applies as well to any written minutes of closed meetings, once the situation that prompted the closed meeting has passed,” the guidelines read.
Last August’s legal settlement also required the Cooper administration to pay $250,000 in legal fees to the plaintiffs. The Council of State approved the payment earlier this year.