Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70 through 50-18-77)
Purpose of the Open Records Act
“The purpose of the Open Records Act is both to encourage public access to information and to foster confidence in government through openness to the public.” Georgia law clearly provides that, except as otherwise specifically provided, “all public records ... shall be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place; and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.”
How to respond to an Open Records Request
If an individual or department receives an Open Records request, it is their responsibility to make sure that a response is provided in compliance with the Act. “An agency must produce the record or records responsive to a request within three (3) business days.
Open Records requests must be submitted in writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Records Act Coordinator Responsibilities
- Act as a liaison and work in conjunction with the department (or individual) to provide a reasonable response within three business days.
- Act as a liaison between departments and the Office of Legal Affairs at the Board of Regents, if needed.
- Record the date the request is received and enter the request onto a log sheet.
- Assist the department in determining the release of information and in what format, preferably by electronic means.
- Assist the department in accessing and notifying the requestor of any fees that will be due prior to releasing the requested information.
- Maintain a log and all supporting documentation of compliance on file.
- Maintain, retain, and destroy Open Records and related documents in compliance with the Georgia Open Records Act and University System of Georgia Records Retention Schedule.
For additional information regarding legal compliance visit: http://law.ga.gov/00/channel_modifieddate/0,2096,87670814_87996542,00.html.
Types of Records
Under the Act, a “public record includes all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, emails, computer based or generated information, or similar material prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of a public office or agency.” A public record may “also include items received or maintained by a private person or entity on behalf of a public office or agency where the records are received or maintained by a private person, firm, corporation or other private entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of a public entity. It does not include any computer program or computer software used or maintained in the course of operation of a public office or agency.”
Records exempt from the Act
((50-18-72 (a) (34))- “The burden for determining whether or not records may include information that would reveal trade secrets is substantially shifted from the public agency to the private entity claiming the exemption.”
Violation of the Open Records Act
“An agency must produce the record or records responsive to a request with three (3) business days. If access to such records is denied in whole or in part, the agency has to state in writing the specific legal authority exempting the records from disclosure, by Code, section, subsection, and paragraph.”
((50-18-71 (b) (1)(B) ) The “three-day response period starts when the custodian get the request-not when it arrives at the courthouse mailroom or when some county employee or official gets it that is not actual keeper of the records.”
If an individual or department receives an Open Records request, it is their responsibility to make sure that a response is provided in compliance with the Act. “There are both civil and criminal penalties for violations of the Open Records Act. If a person knowingly and willfully violates the Act by failing or refusing to provide access to records not subject to exemption within the statutory time frame, the person may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000.00.”
Release of Information Format
An Open Records request can not ask that a response be made available in a particular format. “A public officer or agency is not required to prepare reports, summaries, or compilations not in existence at the time of the request. However, where a request is asking for a printout of information contained in an electronic record and there is no major programming required for the production of that information, then that information is subject to being produced in response to the request.”
Records maintained by computer must be made available where practicable by electronic means, including Internet access, subject to reasonable security restrictions preventing access to records that are not requested or available.
The Act does allow an agency to obtain reimbursements for reasonable costs, but first must notify the requesting party prior to fulfilling the request. The Act allows an agency to charge an administrative fee for copying in addition to the charge of .10 per page, based on the hourly wage of the lowest paid employee qualified to retrieve and copy the records, minus the first fifteen minutes. Clayton State policy is to collect any administrative fee payments prior to releasing the information requested.