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Alert to North Carolina public records requesters

As of July 1, 2013 several State agencies, including the Departments of Administration, Health & Human Services, and Environment and Natural Resources adopted new public records policies that tax public records requesters with “special service charges.”

Here's the languague: [A]n agency may charge a special service charge for any request that requires extensive use of information technology or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency.  When a request requires one holder of records, or any combination of holders, more than thirty (30) minutes cumulative to locate, copy and re-file the records request, that request should be deemed “extensive” and a special service charge should be levied pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 132-6.2(b).
The agencies that have adopted these unprecedented and legally questionable policies are withholding requested public records pending the requesters’ payment of “special service charges” invoiced on the basis of hourly rates ranging from $35 to more than $51 per hour.
We and others are attempting to persuade the agencies in question to modify their policies and rescind the special services charges imposed pursuant to them.  In the meantime, we recommend that requesters remit payment for copies of requested records but either decline to pay any special service charges or pay them under protest pursuant to a written notice similar to the following:
We believe the “special service charge” included in your invoice is unjustified, improper and in violation of the North Carolina Public Records Law.  Accordingly, we are paying such charges under protest and reserve the right to seek and obtain a refund of them should they be rescinded or declared unlawful by executive or court order.

Colin Donohue,
10/1/2013 5:45 PM