1. Every agency is required to publish rules regarding the procedures to be followed by the public in obtaining records. Call the agency first and ask about their procedure.
(a) On routine matters, many agencies will release records without a written request.
(b) Unless you are reasonably sure that the agency will release the records, you should submit a written request. A written request starts the clock on the agency's time to respond and will establish a paper trail if you have to go to court. A sample written request is shown in Appendix l. Realize that the agency may have its own form that it may want filled out as part of your request. Forms are not required by the Act; in most cases, you may question (and refuse to provide) information or representations that pertian to liability for or use of public records.
(c) Assume all records are public. The agency - not the reuqestor - bears the burden of determining whether a record is exempt. For planning purposes, however, review the "exemptions" listed below to be sure your request is worded in such a way that none of the listed exemptions could reasonably be said to apply. You can also ask an agency for a list of exemptions that it believes apply to its records. Agencies are supposed to publish a list of such exemptions. Discuss the request with your editor and lawyer if you anticipate that the agency will claim that some exemption applies.
(d) Make your request as specific as possible.
(e) You may, but are not required to, give an explanation as to how you intend to use the information or why you want it.
(f) Unless it is inconvenient or expensive for you to review the documents in person, it can be cost-effective to ask simply to "inspect" the records, rather than copy them. Once you have reviewed the documents, you can request that the agency copy whatever documents you need.
2. The agency is required by law to make a prompt response to your request. "Promptness" is not defined in the statute; as a practical matter, most requests can be handled within 24 to 48 hours. The Attorney General has said that agencies must respond "reasonably expeditiously." Therefore, you should follow up on your request with a phone call if you have no response after two working days. If an agency is unable to respond to your request within five business days, it must provide you with a written estimate of the time it will need to respond. Agencies can extend their time to respond beyond five business days only in certain circumstances, such as when the records are widely dispersed.
3. If your request for inspection is granted, the records must be made available to you during customary office hours of the agency. The agency is also required to make available facilities for copying the records, although they may limit your access in such a way as to avoid disrupting the operations of the agency.
4. The agency may not charge you for locating the records and making them available for you to inspect or copy. Agencies may charge the actual cost of providing photocopies of the documents, including the cost of paper, the use of agency copying equipment, and the staff time needed to copy and mail the requested records. If an agency has not calculated the actual cost of providing public records, it may not charge in excess of fifteen cents per page. Each agency is supposed to maintian a statement of the costs it charges for providing public records. The actual cost of "copying" electronic records is sometimes difficult to know and agenices tend to overstate such costs. In requesting data base searches discuss the cost issue at the time you make your request.
5. If the agency denies your request, even if only in part, the agency is required to make a written statement of the specific exemptions authorizing the withholding of the record and a brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the record withheld.
6. The agency must conduct an internal review of any decision denying a request for inspection and must complete the review by the end of the second business day after the denial of inspection. An informal call to ascertain progress on your request may be useful.