Sheriff Michael Hunt
420 Hampton Ave NE
Aiken, SC 29801
The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest journalism advocacy organization, is appalled by your apparent practice of running criminal background checks on those who request public records and of charging $6 per page for copies of public records.
We feel that the practice, if reported accurately in an Augusta Chronicle article, shows little regard for the public you serve. Many public records laws around the nation permit requesters to seek records without identifying themselves and require requesters to pay only actual costs for records. Could you please clarify whether all records requesters are being subject to criminal background checks and whether all those requesting records must give their name or ID?
Such practices could interfere with the public’s right to request and obtain public records. Similarly, your excessive record charges also become an impediment for citizens wanting to obtain information belonging to the taxpayers who pay for the records’ creation. To be sure, the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act reads: “The public body may establish and collect fees not to exceed the actual cost of searching for or making copies of records.”
In a participatory democracy, public records are key to understanding and providing a check on government operations. A cavalier attitude about providing access to these records shows a disregard for fundamental values of our democratic society. These essential ideals are being trampled in your apparent attempt to clear criminal warrants and generate revenue.
Please reduce your overcharging and, if necessary, ask Aiken County officials to revisit their record fee ordinance. We also ask for a response to our query about the status of the use of IDs and criminal background checks. You may contact Joel Campbell, Freedom of Information Committee co-chair at 801-362-4298.
David Carlson, President
Joel J. Campbell, Co-chair, National Freedom of Information Committee