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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Want a copy of a public record at the City County Building? Just whip out your phone and snap a photo.

Don’t try that across the street at the Andrew Johnson Building. Knox County Schools policy specifically forbids taking pictures of records.

The contradiction between city, county and school system in Knox County illustrates the inconsistency of public records policies around the state on what advocates say ought to be a simple issue — the right to photograph a public document with the camera most Americans carry in their pockets.

“The technology is moving so fast the laws can’t keep up with it,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who pushed last year to change the county’s policy in favor of allowing cellphone pics. “People like the idea of being able to do that. Anything we can do to increase transparency is a good thing.”


The new notepad

Burchett — who posts an average of a selfie a day on his Twitter feed — said he sees no practical difference between snapping a pic and taking notes or scanning copies. The mayor’s office even handles public records requests made via tweets and social media posts.

“These kids coming up now, it’s all they know,” Burchett said. “Everybody needs to get on board.”

City of Knoxville officials a few floors down said the issue rarely comes up. City policy doesn’t directly address cellphone pics, but clerks aren’t going to stop anyone from snapping an image if they want, said Eric Vreeland, spokesman for Mayor Madeline Rogero.

“There have been a few cases,” he said. “It’s just another way of taking notes.”

Knox County Schools policy specifically bans “photocopying of any type” by residents who inspect records. Copies can be requested, and “charges will apply for the copies and labor. … Every effort will be made to satisfy requests as quickly as possible.”

School system spokeswoman Carly Harrington says the district already goes out of its way to accommodate requesters.

“The district procedure is based on the best practices as outlined by the state Comptroller’s Office,” she wrote in an email. “While the procedure does not at this time make accommodations for the use of personal devices, the district does go beyond state law requirements when it comes to the cost, including an additional free hour of labor … and providing the first 10 pages free of charge.”

The school board has no plans to consider changes to the policy, she said.


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel,