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PREPARATORY CHECKLIST

  • Designate an “official custodian” responsible for responding to Public Information Act requests. 
  • Designate a central repository for electronic correspondence. This can help avoid situations where individual council or board members are acting as “custodians” for the emails received and sent from private email accounts and computers. 
  • Confirm records are being retained according to the document retention schedule. Records should be retained according to the schedule approved by the State Archivist.
  • Adopt a schedule of fees for research and copying costs. 
  • Consider adopting a written policy for processing requests. The policy should include a process for fee waiver requests.

RESPONSE CHECKLIST

Provide an Initial Response

  • If requested documents are not in your agency’s custody or control, provide notice of this fact within 10 business days. If known, provide the applicant with the identity of the actual custodian and the location or possible locations of the records.
  • If a request is unclear or unreasonably broad, ask the applicant to clarify or narrow the request. Often, applicants believe they need to request documents in broad terms to ensure full access, not appreciating the extent of the time and cost that would be required to strictly comply. A letter to the applicant may help clarify which documents are really pertinent to the applicant. If the scope is revised by the applicant, the applicant should submit a new written request.
  • Provide, in advance, an estimation of the cost of compiling the records for inspection. The estimate should include the cost for copying (and delivery) of records, if requested by the applicant. Reasonable expenses can be charged. The first two hours of research must be provided at no charge.

Assess Whether an Exemption Applies

  • Assess whether denial is authorized by other law.  Records cannot be made available for public inspection if a law outside the Act or a court rule or order prevents disclosure.
  • Assess whether denial is mandated. There are thirty-two categories of records that cannot be made available for public inspection. If only part of the information in a record is exempt, the exempt portion of the record can be redacted so that the remainder of the record can be inspected.
  • Assess whether denial is discretionary. There are twelve categories of records that may be made available for public inspection, at the discretion of the agency. Before disclosing a record that contains potential confidential information submitted by a third-party, e.g., commercial or financial information, provide advance notice to the entity and an opportunity to address the confidentiality. 

Respond

  • Respond to a request in writing as soon as possible, but no later than 30 calendar days. The Act requires immediate inspection of public documents, but allows an additional reasonable period, not to exceed 30 days, if such time is needed.  
  • If the responsive documents cannot be compiled and made available for inspection within the 30 day deadline, even with due diligence, request an extension. If an agreement cannot be reached, inform the applicant in writing of the reasons for the delay and an estimated date when review will be complete. Offer to allow inspection of records currently available.
  • If inspection is to be denied, in whole or in part, provide notice of denial within 10 business days. This period is in addition to the maximum 30-day response period above. As a practical matter, the denial and explanation generally are provided as part of the same response. Any denial letter must include the reasons for denial, the legal authority for the denial, and notice of the remedies for review of the denial. A denial letter should be reviewed by legal counsel to ensure compliance with the law.

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