Public's right to inspect public records without charge upheld
January 3, 2019
NEWCASTLE — The small claims court in Newcastle upheld the public’s right to inspect public documents without charge when the court ruled in favor of Wayne Chittim on Dec. 5.
According to attorney William Curley, who represented Chittim, his client was taken to court by the Osage Water District and Osage Improvement and Service District over costs associated with a public records request made by Chittim.
In the written request dated Oct. 17, 2016, Chittim specifically asked to inspect the 2015 and 2016 accounting books for the two districts.
“I Wayne Chittim am requesting the accounting books, any bids that have been placed for any job pertaining to the Osage Water District, all bank deposits, all checks that have been written from Osage Water District funds, all bids that have been placed on any job for Osage Water District. I am requesting all documents pertaining to the election for new board members for the Osage Water District. These records that I am requesting is for Jan. 1, 2015 through current date,” Chittim said in the request dated Nov. 7, 2016.
Costs associated with the requests, according to court documents, totaled $1,066.50. A breakdown of these costs in the record states that $66 was for 132 pages of paper copies from the Osage Water District and $750 for hourly costs associated with the request. Costs associated with the Osage Improvement and Service District totaled $228.50 for 457 paper copies and another $22 for another round of paper copies.
“The judge denied relief in both cases,” Curley said,
According to Curley, he argued that Chittim should not have to pay for the records because although “artful,” the requests were made to inspect the public record.
“The public record law states that there is no cost for inspection,” Curley said.
The judge cited the Public Records Act, according to Curley, in his ruling.
“The evidence the judge had to go on that day in the case wasn’t enough for the judge to see that all of the copying was necessary,” Curley said. “Those documents are supposed to be available for inspection for free.”
Chittim will see the two districts in court again. On Nov. 20, he filed a civil suit against Cindy Crabtree.
The court documents state that Chittim, a member of an Osage citizens’ group, is contesting the recent elections for the Osage Water District and Osage Improvement and Service District.
The grounds for the contest, according to the record, “are misconduct, material negligence, false voting, conflict of impartiality and denial of the right to vote by stacking. “
Chittim claims that advertising dates were wrong on election notices and that several individuals who submitted applications for election were not included on the ballot.