Responding to public records requests is considered to be part of the routine responsibilities of every public office. Follow the guidelines below to ensure that your office is Public Records Act compliant.
Accepting Public Records Requests
- A public records requester may submit a request to any University office and any University employee. Accept and promptly acknowledge receipt of a public records request when one is made. No special language or citation to statute is required. If the request is submitted in writing, the acknowledgement and response should be in writing.
- Be aware that a public records requester is not required to
- disclose his/her identity
- disclose the intended use of the requested record; or
- submit the request in writing.
However, you may ask for that information or a written request IF having a written request or knowing the requester’s identity or intended use will help you to identify, locate or deliver the records AND you give the requester the option to decline.
Tracking Public Records Requests
- Refer the public records request for tracking and processing. The Public Records Office has formalized a system for keeping track of all requests submitted to the University to ensure timely, consistent response. Offices that frequently receive public records requests have a staff member designated to track requests made directly to that office. If you receive a public records request, alert your designated staff member so s/he can coordinate processing and responding to routine requests for clearly public records and notify and work with the Public Records Office to respond to non-routine requests. If your office does not have a designated staff member for public records requests, contact the Public Records Office immediately upon receipt of a records request for assistance with tracking and response.
Processing Public Records Requests
- Make a habit of filing all records related to a particular project or subject together, including those in email format. The Public Records Act requires a public office to organize and maintain the public records for which it is responsible in a way that allows the office to identify and provide them in response to public records requests. The records retention schedules available through the University Archives can guide employees about how to organize public records by category (“series”), whether the records exist as emails, on paper, or in some other medium. The University’s General Records Retention Schedule is available on the Archives’ website. Contact the University Archives directly to view retention schedules specific to University units.
Remember that for public records purposes, content–not medium—is the key to proper records organization. Filing your records by content, regardless of medium, will allow you to readily identify requested records and help records requesters word requests in a way that the University can more easily fulfill.
- Consult with the Public Records Office. While routine requests for clearly public records may be processed and tracked at the unit or departmental level, all other public records requests should be processed in consultation with the Public Records Office. The Public Records Office will work with counsel in the Office of Legal Affairs to address any legal issues and evaluate records for any necessary redactions.
Fulfilling Public Records Requests
- Make public records available for inspection promptly, and provide copies of public records within a reasonable period of time. “Prompt” and “reasonable” are not a set period of time; rather, they are based on the individual circumstances of the request. Fulfilling a request for records that are voluminous or distributed among several offices, or require extensive legal review and redaction may take longer than responding to a request for records that are readily available and clearly public. Regardless, the law requires compliance without delay.
- Allow inspection of public records free of charge at reasonable times during regular business hours. Offices that are open continuously may limit inspection to usual administrative hours, such as 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Provide copies of public records free of charge or at cost. “At cost” means the actual cost of producing the copy being provided—paper, toner, CD, etc.—and the costs of delivery such as packaging and postage. A public office may not charge for the labor associated with making copies, nor may it pass along the cost of printing an electronic document for redaction and scanning it back into electronic form for release. Most paper copies cost about 5 cents to produce;
- Always consult with the Public Records Office before denying a public records request. A denial must always be accompanied by a citation to the specific legal authority that allows or requires the record to be withheld.
Understanding Ohio’s Public Records Law
- The University’s Public Records Policy explains the responsibilities of the University, its employees, and others under the Ohio Public Records Act.
- §149.43 of the Ohio Revised Code is the portion of the Ohio Public Records Act that provides for access to public records that are created, received by, or come under the jurisdiction of public offices. As a state-supported institution of higher education, The Ohio State University is made subject to the Public Records law by §149.011(B) of the Ohio Revised Code.