Records requests hindered

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The price of freedom in Chelsea is evidently two quarters and a slight invasion of privacy.

Earlier this month, the Chelsea City Council implemented a new policy that requires residents to submit a formal request when seeking public records &045;&045; saying what the records are wanted for and the purpose for acquiring them.

Copies of any public records will now cost 50 cents per page, and if extra research is required, a $10 per hour charge will be added after the first hour.

Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven stresses that citizens still have the right to inspect any city document and that his staff won&8217;t turn people away who can&8217;t afford the fees.

Rather, he said the new policy is an attempt to bring Chelsea more in line with neighboring cities.

True, Columbiana and Pelham do have research fees &8212; both cities charge $15 per hour &8212; and copy fees throughout Shelby County range from 25 cents to $1.

It&8217;s certainly reasonable to charge residents for copies and even research fees. Public record requests cost city employees time and resources.

What&8217;s not reasonable is to ask residents why the records are needed.

Frankly, it&8217;s none of any government&8217;s business why public records are sought after. It&8217;s irrelevant whether the records are wanted to settle legal matters, spread gossip or fuel campfires.

It should suffice to say that those records are open to anyone and everyone &8212; that should be reason enough, not to mention the First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act.

Hopefully, Chelsea and any other Shelby County municipality with a similar policy will reconsider and make access to public records simple and hassle-free