What are public records?
Public Records are “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency.” Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(1).
Who is allowed to look at public records?
The Tennessee Public Records Act provides that any citizen of Tennessee has the right to personally inspect a public record unless there is a state law that restricts or prohibits inspection. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7- 503(a)(2)(A). While only citizens of Tennessee have the right to inspect and receive copies of public records, governmental entities are not prohibited from making records accessible to individuals who are not citizens of Tennessee. In Tennessee, a request to inspect or receive copies of public records is called a “public records request” or an “open records request.” A number of other states and the federal government call a request for public records a “FOIA” or “Freedom of Information Act” request.
Does the Office of Open Records Counsel make open records requests for citizens?
No. The Office of Open Records Counsel is not a clearinghouse for public records requests. If a citizen has questions regarding the Tennessee Public Records Act (“TPRA”) prior to making a request, the Office will advise the citizen of his/her rights under the TPRA. Once a citizen makes a public records request from a local governmental entity and a dispute arises, the Office will serve as a mediator between the citizen and local government official in an effort to resolve the dispute. .
May a records custodian require a request to inspect public records to be in writing?
Generally, the answer is No. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A) states, that a records custodian may not "require a written request...to view a public record unless otherwise required by law.” Given that a requestor is not required to make a request in person and given that a request for inspection is not required to be made in writing, a governmental entity should accept requests for inspection via telephone, if the requestor does not want to make the request in person or in writing.
What are the permitted per page charges for copies of public records?
A governmental entity is allowed to charge 15 cents ($0.15) per 8 ½ x11 or 8 ½ x14 black and white copy and 50 cents ($0.50) per 8 ½ x11 or 8 ½ x14 color copy, unless the entity has done a cost analysis that proves that the entity’s cost to produce a copy exceeds the threshold amount set out above.
Does a citizen have the right to bring in his/her own copying equipment to make copies?
No. There is nothing in the Tennessee Public Records Act that gives a citizen the right to use his/her own copying equipment (e.g. cell phone, camera, hand held scanner, laptop, etc.) to make copies. However, if a governmental entity wants to allow a requestor to do so, the governmental entity has the discretion to do so. There is nothing in the Tennessee Public Records Act that prohibits a governmental entity from allowing a person to use his/her own copying equipment. If a governmental entity is going to allow a requestor to use his/her own copying equipment, that should be reflected in the entity’s rule or policy.
Is a governmental entity required to accept a public records request for copies via email or fax?
The case law in Tennessee only addresses the fact that a governmental entity is required to accept requests for copies in person or through the mail. However, if the governmental entity decides to accept requests for copies via email or text, the law does not prohibit the entity from doing so. If a governmental entity is going to limit the methods in which it accepts requests for copies, that information should be reflected in the entity’s rule or policy.