Monday, February 28, 2011

City violated Open Records Act by denying request for inspection and charging for copies

The Office of the Attorney General has ruled the City of Hurstbourne in Jefferson County improperly tried to bill a citizen for records he had specifically asked to inspect. The ruling also held the city violated the state Open Records Act by failing to adopt and post procedures outlining access to its records.

Jose Magana asked the city to inspect records of citizen complaints from Jan. 1, 1995, to the present. Instead, the city began making copies of those records and conditioned his right to inspect them on payment of 10 cents per page. The attorney general said the city subverted the intent of the law when it conditioned Magana’s right to inspect the records on prepayment for copies of these records in the amount of $170.

In answering Magana's appeal, the city argued that he had not specified a request to personally inspect the records. The attorney general found otherwise, citing Magana's October 18, 2010, letter to the city requesting access to city records "for the purpose of inspection.”

The decision, issued Feb. 25, notes that "in a line of decisions issued by this office, the Attorney General has recognized that the 'public has an absolute right to conduct on-site inspection of public records.'" The city prepared copies of the records, according to the decision, under the mistaken idea that the choice to prepare copies or allow personal inspection rested with the city, which is mistaken.

The opinion also notes that the requirement to adopt and post policies governing access to city records is "not a courtesy extended to citizens" but a legal requirement and suggests the city promptly adopt the required procedures.

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