Open Records Request: Tips for Responses

Municipal Law Alert, March 2009

The following list is intended for clerks and other public officials who receive requests for government records. The list’s purpose is to give some helpful guidelines on responding to record requests. The list is not intended as a complete summary of all the open records law’s requirements and nuances. Consult a municipal attorney for advice on responding to specific requests.

  • Respond.

The first guideline is that the law requires a response. The law does not necessarily require a municipality to make a record available. To the contrary, since there are exceptions to the open records law, some records should not be made available. Nevertheless, the municipality must respond by (1) making the records available; or (2) by denying the request. If there are concerns or reasons the information should not be released, consult a municipal attorney as soon as possible, prior to responding.

  • Respond promptly, not immediately.

The law requires a response “as soon as practicable and without delay.” While there is no exact timeframe specified by the statute, a municipality should respond within a reasonable time based on the request and on staff availability and workload. If the request is complicated and will be time consuming, a reasonable response time might be five to ten working days. Again, if there are reasons the information should not be released, it is reasonable to delay responding until after consultation with a municipal attorney.

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