Civitas Review

Providing Public Records Is McCrory Admin's Business


Imagine that your house caught fire, and when you called the fire department, the fire chief told you they had to charge you a fee to look up your address, and then additional fees for actually coming out to your house and putting out the blaze.

That's what the McCrory administration is doing when it charges people to look up official records.

As in the old auto company ad, for a government of free people, transparency is Job One.

What good is any government action if it is conducted in secret? If we the people don't know what government is doing, we can't evaluate it and respond.

Hidden government is tyrannical government. If government is allowed to work in secret, there is no freedom.

Being transparent is not a distraction from a democratic government's job; it is government's job.

Some say public records requests are often frivolous. Well, who says so — the government? Providing public records isn't a frivolity, it is a core function of government.

Ask any police officer, and he or she will tell you that most police calls are trivial. But, of course, police must answer them all the same, because they don't know in advance which are trivial and which are vital.

Way, way back when I was a young police reporter, there was a county sheriff's officer whose job was to answer calls. One old lady constantly called up to report every loud sound and unknown passerby. One day the officer got another of her calls, saying she had heard a gunshot and asking for a car to come out right away. He said, Yeah, sure, and hung up the phone, without sending a deputy over.

The next day, of course, the body of a local drug deal was found in a car outside the old lady's apartment. He'd been shot in the head. That's why police have to answer every call, as best they can.

If you called the police and an officer said he couldn't respond because your request was frivolous, what would you think? You didn't think it was frivolous; and aren't we always admonished to tell the authorities about anything suspicious?

The same holds for record requests: Many may seem frivolous, but we taxpayers don't know till we get the records. Anyway, it's our job to decide that, not some bureaucrat's.

Some protest that searching for records is expensive. First, it's worth it. Second, if the expense gets to be a burden, a government should jettison the really frivolous and even harmful things it does, then it will have of money to respond to the public's request to know what their government is doing..

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