Hamilton County Attorney Admits Conflict with State Law in Charging for Records Requests

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — During the Hamilton County Commission meeting, Commissioner Greg Martin asked the county attorney about some recently deleted county records being requested by members of the press.

At a recent meeting of the Hamilton County Public Records Commission, 4 of the 6 members of that body voted to delete emails of records requests.

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Commissioner Greg Martin asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor for some clarification on the issue.

“The only thing that was destroyed was the requests. The requests, yes sir. Why would you destroy the requests? Because there’s no statute that requires the requests to be kept, first of all,” Rheubin Taylor, Hamilton County Attorney.

Times Free Press reporter Sarah Grace Taylor, who has been requesting records of other requests, stepped to the podium to explain.

“No, the records I asked for do not exist if they got rid of the requests. Because what we wanted to see is what had been asked for, and how had that office responded to those requests, after they had improperly responded to one of our requests,” said Sarah Grace Taylor, reporter for the Times Free Press.

The Times Free Press was told the records would cost over $700 just to view.

“The state law says you do not charge for someone wanting to inspect records. The problem, particularly in this situation and in other situations, is when someone want to inspect records that have to be first of all, compiled, records have to be reviewed, there may be some redaction needed in those records,” said attorney Taylor.

But when pressed on the matter, by Commissioner Chip Baker, attorney Taylor admitted:

“So, but we do conflict with state law? Is that right? We conflict. Yes. We do. But there is, like I said, there are some counties that don’t interpret it or practice it as the statute may be written, and that’s what’s in court right now, in Knox County,” said attorney Taylor.

To clarify, Hamilton County’s attorney admitted that the county is not complying with Tennessee law.

How the case in Knox County referenced by Hamilton County’s attorney will affect local response to open records requests remains unclear.

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Ashley is a lifetime Chattanooga area resident, and a 1987 graduate from UTC, with a BA in communications. While there, he was commissioned through the ROTC program, served simultaneously in the 1/181st field artillery Tn. Army National Guard, finished Airborne school, was a member of the Scabbard and Blade military honor society and ROTC Rangers, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, played snare drum with the UTC Marching band, and played in a southern rock band called Southern Atmosphere, while working a full time job as a trainer at the Sports Barn. He also won the Southeastern United States teenage bodybuilding competition during this time. Ashley has been with News 12 Now for 21 years. Prior to working here he was a videographer, director, producer and editor at Falcon Cable TV in Dalton, Ga. for 6 years where he produced thousands of commercials and dozens of hour long features. He also worked as a freelancer and employee at another network affiliate in Chattanooga. He has operated a part time video production business from home for 25 years. He says his passion is telling stories that feature people who give of themselves to help others, and stories that inspire people to make positive changes in themselves and their communities. Ashley is ecstatically married to Debbie Henderson, and has two step sons, a daughter in law, a sister, and lots of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews. His parents are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Ashley and Debbie are active members of Brainerd Baptist Church. His interests include weight training and cycling with his wife, photography, poetry, playing drums, and checking off items from his extensive honey-do list. If you would like to reach Ashley, email him at ahenderson@wdef.com.