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Media Coverage
Richmond Not Enthused About Giving Public Access
September 12, 1996


Thursday, September 12, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03


RICHMOND Councilman Tom Butt's proposal to improve the public's access to city information met with an unenthusiastic response from his colleagues this week.

Butt proposed changes in the city's public information ordinance that would make it easier and quicker for the public to get information it is entitled to. His changes would also prevent the city from seeking sanctions against a member of the public for making a supposedly frivolous records request.

Vice Mayor Richard Griffin said Tuesday he was not aware of people having trouble getting information from City Hall.

"I'm not ready to make drastic changes," he said. "If it's not broke, why fix it?"

In fact, the proposed changes are not sweeping.

The ordinance specifies that public information "may be released" to a telephone caller or office visitor by any city employee conversant with the information. Butt would change that to read "shall be released."

He also wants to add a paragraph saying that entire files, excluding specific documents that are not public, be available for inspection, and a sentence that says information shall be provided as soon as an employee has obtained it.

Resident Mildred Carlton urged the council to pass the proposed changes.

"I personally have had difficulty on a number of occasions getting documents, and I think this amendment will help define the procedure," she said.

Councilwoman Irma Anderson made an unsuccessful attempt to table the item an unusual move that would effectively kill it for the time being.

That prompted a scolding from Councilwoman Donna Powers, who supports the changes. "Isn't that government at its finest," she said.

Councilman Nat Bates suggested the council refer it to its procedures committee. All council members except Butt supported him. Butt abstained.