Monday, July 27, 2009

Attorney general's decision provides useful reminders about open-records law

A new attorney general's opinion contains some useful reminders about what the state Open Records Act does and what it doesn't do. The opinion, in the case of a Goshen man's demand for information from the North Oldham Fire Protection District, found partially in favor of the complainant, Peter Neidhardt, and partially in favor of the district, treading a careful route among state and federal laws and regulations and the definition of records, information and research.

Neidhardt had demanded minutes from unspecified meetings of the district board about volunteer firefighters' benefits and reimbursements. The decision said the district failed to provide "timely access," by not meeting the three-day deadline for a reply, but there was no statutory requirement for the district to provide information, create a record, perform research or compile a list.

The decision said the purpose of the Open Records Act "is not to provide information, but to provide access to public records." Therefore, "requests for information, as opposed to requests for specifically described public records, need not be honored." In the words of the office, what the public gets is what the public agency has and in the format in which the agency has it. "One desiring that lists be made, or that broad categories of information be provided, must expend their own time digging the information out unless it has already been compiled."

Further, the attorney general said, the district was not required to make a written reply to Neidhardt, and since he resided within the county, could require him to go to the district's office in working hours to look through the records himself.

For a complete text of the opinion, and several others issued recently, see Links of Interest at the bottom of the blog.

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