N.C. ‘needs public records standards’ … Amen to that!

My Twitter friend, @stevesuo, posted a link to a great editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times yesterday called “Tar Heel state needs public records standards.”

The editorial’s message is simple: North Carolina’s law says government officials must provide public records “as soon as possible,” and that just isn’t cutting it.

“There would be no question in Georgia, which requires records to be provided in three business days. The limit is five days in Virginia and seven days in Tennessee,” according to the editorial.

“As soon as possible” can mean different things to different people. It all depends upon your list of priorities. And let me tell you from my experience, a reporter’s request for public documents usually isn’t at the top of that list.

I applaud the Citizen-Times for suggesting that North Carolina needs to adopt the 3-day rule, just as Georgia has done. One of the drawbacks is that public agencies could take the full three days to furnish the records simply because they know they can. But it’s worth the risk if we could get all public officials to take the requests seriously and provide documents in a timely manner.

I know there’s no perfect answer to this dilemma that every public-records-loving reporter faces. But, there was one perfect quote in that editorial that I just have to share. It made my day:

“As Tom Bennett, co-founder of Georgia First Amendment Foundation, put it, a nation that can receive a radio signal from Mars can make records accessible.”

Amen to that!

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