Commission approves public records policy, creates tourism districts

Published 4:22 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

During a marathon meeting of the County Commission on Monday which was dominated by discussion on the animal shelter, commissioners also approved a resolution setting a public records policy and one designated “Adventure Tourism Districts” across the county.

In 2016, the County Commission approved a resolution to create a series of “Adventure Tourism Districts” in the county. Creating these special districts allows the county to better market those tourism and recreation opportunities and it also allows qualifying tourism-related businesses to get a tax credit when they set up shop in one of the districts.

However, since the initial state law that allowed for the creation of those districts, state officials changed some of the parameters and counties were required to reapply for the designations under the new regulations.

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During Monday’s meeting, Susan Robinson, who handles economic and community development through the Carter County Mayor’s Office, told the Commission the previous state parameters required a business to have 15 full-time employees year-round in order to qualify.

“Most tourism businesses are seasonal, and they couldn’t maintain those employees full time year-round with benefits,” Robinson said. “They reduced those thresholds to allow more businesses to apply.”

Robinson said the county could not apply to designate the whole county as an Adventure Tourism District, so they had to designate portions of the county to create the districts based on the tourism opportunities available.

The Commission unanimously approved the resolution to create the following districts: Roan Mountain Adventure Tourism District, Watauga Lake Adventure Tourism District, Elizabethton Adventure Tourism District, Watauga River  Adventure Tourism District, Stoney Creek Adventure Tourism District, Doe River Gorge Adventure Tourism District, and the Tweetsie Trail Adventure Tourism District.

In a near-unanimous vote, the Commission adopted a formal open records policy, which is required under state law.

The policy outlines how requests for access to or copies of public records will be handled and provides guidelines for fulfilling those requests.

As part of the policy, the county had to create a new position — Public Records Request Coordinator. County Attorney Josh Hardin explained to the Commission that the individual office holders will still have the responsibility for maintaining the records of their office. The coordinator will work with both the citizen and the record custodian to ensure the request is answered, Hardin said. The coordinator will also work with the office holders to ensure their employees understand the open records policy, he added.

“This is geared toward larger requests,” Hardin said. “This is not geared to an individual walking in to get their own records.”

Those seeking to obtain public records can still go directly to the record custodian, Hardin added.

Commissioners voted 23-1 to adopt the open records policy.