Policy Number VII-16: Public Records Policy
The purpose of this policy is to facilitate the public in exercising their rights to access and review City records.
Public records include the following: Any document – paper, electronic, or other format – that is created or received by, or comes under the jurisdiction of a public office that documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office. This includes email, text, photos, or any other electronic record, regardless if it was created using a City or personal device. All public records must be maintained according to the City Records Retention Schedule, RC-2. All records of the City of Montgomery are public unless they are specifically exempt from disclosure under the Ohio state or federal law.
Public Records Custodian
The City Manager is the official Public Records Custodian of all records.
In accordance with State law, the City of Montgomery Records Commission has adopted a schedule of records retention and disposition that identify these records and this schedule is available through the office of the City Manager. The records maintained by the City and the ability to access them are means to provide trust between the public and the City.
The City Manager may assign the responsibility of managing public records requests to another City employee (s). Requests for Police Department and Fire Department records may be made directly to the Safety Center.
City of Montgomery records shall be organized and maintained so that they are readily available in a reasonable period of time for inspection and copying.
Public records requests will typically be accommodated during regular business hours.
Each request for public records shall be evaluated for a response using the following guidelines:
a. Any employee may receive a public records request. The employee shall fulfill the request and should note non-routine requests in the public records log or refer the request to the appropriate department and/or public records custodian.
b. Although no specific language is required to make a request, the requester must identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow the public office to identify, retrieve, and review the records. If it is not clear what records are being sought, the City shall contact the requester for clarification, and shall inform the requestor of the manner in which the office keeps its records.
c. A requester is not required to put a public records request in writing and does not have to provide his or her identity or the intended use of the public record. However, providing such information may benefit the requester by enhancing the ability of the City to identify, locate and deliver the public records requested.
d. Public records can be accessed by one of the following methods: a request to view public records in person; a request for copies of public records that the requester will personally pick up; or a request for copies of public records that the requester wants to have mailed or otherwise transmitted to the requester. Requests for Police Department and Fire Department records may be made directly to the Safety Center.
e. Public records shall be made available for inspection promptly. Copies of public records shall be made available within a reasonable period of time. “Prompt” and “reasonable” take into account the volume of public records requested; the proximity of the location where the public records are stored; the physical state of the record and the necessity for any legal review of the public records requested.
f. On request, public records will be copied to paper or if the record is kept by the City in another medium, the requester may request that the record be produced in that alternate medium. There is no requirement that the City create public records to satisfy a public records request.
g. Each request should be evaluated for an estimated length of time required to gather the public records. Routine requests for records shall be satisfied immediately, if feasible to do so.
h. All requests for public records must either be satisfied or be acknowledged in writing, or by email by the office of the City Manager, or designee, within three (3) business days following the office’s receipt of the request. If a request is deemed significantly beyond “routine,” such as seeking a voluminous number of copies, the acknowledgement should include the following:
1. An estimated number of business days it will take to satisfy the request.
2. An estimated cost, if copies are requested.
3. Any items within the request that may be exempt from disclosure.
i. Any denial of public records requested must include an explanation, including legal authority for such denial. If portions of a record are public and portions are exempt, the exempt portions are to be redacted and the remaining records released. If there are redactions, each redaction must be accompanied by a supporting explanation.
Fees and Payment
Those seeking public records shall be charged only the actual cost of making copies or printing pictures and shall also pay the actual cost (e.g. postage) of delivery and other supplies used in mailing, delivery or transmission of the public record. Payment for public records requests may be required prior to the actual copying or printing of records.
Copies made on letter or legal size paper with black or color ink, shall be charged at a cost consistent with the current copy costs. (See Attachment 1 for current cost per page.) Ohio law may provide for specific fees to be charged for certain records. The fee shall be waived for requests which result in a cost of $10 or less. If the City uses an outside copying service to make the copies, such as blue prints or large volume requests, the requester may be required to pay the cost of the entire copying job, as billed by the copying service. Copies that are requested in an electronic format will be provided at the cost charged to the City, without taking into account employee time spent preparing the copies.
Public records will only be copied by the office of the City Manager or other authorized officers, employees or representatives designated or requested by the City Manager. The City may use an outside copying service to make the copies, at the City’s discretion. Under no circumstances shall the requester be permitted to make the copies himself or herself.
Subpoenas and Discovery Requests
Any member who receives a subpoena duces tecum or discovery request for records should promptly contact a supervisor and the office of the City Manager for review and processing. While a subpoena duces tecum may ultimately be subject to compliance, it is not an order from the court that will automatically require the release of the requested information
Generally, discovery requests and subpoenas from criminal defendants and their authorized representatives (including attorneys) should be referred to the County Prosecutor, City Attorney or the courts.
All questions regarding compliance with any subpoena duces tecum or discovery request should be promptly referred to legal counsel for the Department so that a timely response can be prepared.
Sealed Records or Expungments
Expungement orders or an order to seal records received by the Department shall be reviewed for appropriate action by the Custodian of Records. The Custodian of Records shall expunge or seal such records as ordered by the court. Records may include, but are not limited to, a record of arrest, investigation, detention or conviction. Once expunged or sealed, members shall respond to any inquiry as though the record did not exist.
There are certain records with release restrictions according to ORC § 149.43. Employees should cosult with their supervisor before a record is restricted or denied.
Enhanced Records Access by Journalists
Journalists, as defined in ORC § 149.43(B)(9), are entitled to enhanced access to certain records not available to the general public provided:
a. The request is in writing.
b. The journalist identifies him/herself by name, title and employer’s name and address.
c. The journalist establishes and signs a request that the information sought is in the public interest.
Records available to journalists but not the general public include:
a. Personal residential addresses of an employee (ORC § 149.43(B)(9)).
b. The business name and address of a spouse, former spouse or child of an employee, only if employed by a public office (ORC § 149.43(B)(9)).
c. Addresses and telephone numbers of workers’ compensation claimants (ORC § 4123.88(D).
Denial of a Public Records Request
Certain records are not defined as “public records” under Ohio law or are exempt from disclosure under state or federal law. In these situations, the public records request will be denied on that basis. The Ohio Revised Code requires that any denial be supported by legal authority and an explanation. Any denial of a public record shall be given in writing. The Ohio Revised Code regards certain actions as being “denials” of public record requests. These situations shall be addressed as follows:
a. Redaction. The Ohio Revised Code defines a “redaction” as “obscuring or deleting any information that is exempt from the duty to permit public inspection or copying from an item that otherwise meets the definition of a ‘record’ in section 149.011 of the Revised Code.” Examples of redaction are “blacking out” or “whiting out” or “cutting out” portions of a document.
b. Requests that are ambiguous, overly broad, or are difficult to identify the public records requested. At times, a requester may make a public records request from which the City cannot determine which public records are being sought. In such circumstances, the City shall inform the requester that the public records request is denied, but shall give the requester an opportunity to more accurately describe the public records sought. If the requester is seeking public records formatted in a manner that the records are not maintained, the City shall inform the requester of the manner that the public records are maintained. The requester may then submit a public records request that more accurately reflects the actual format of the public records sought.
c. The City reserves the right to consult with legal counsel prior to the release of any public records.