Readers of this blog know that we usually represent OPRA requestors, but we also have represented public officials and public agencies. In our work, we come across common mistakes made by public agencies. This post gives OPRA tips for public agencies.
Keep Track of Requests: It is difficult to manage OPRA requests, especially when OPRA requests can be made via email, facsimile, a dedicated agency website, or even third-party websites that the agency does not control. Records custodians and agencies should have one central log of all email requests that records the date it was received, when an initial response is due, notes regarding extensions, and whether the request is open or closed.
Request Extensions: Along with tracking all OPRA requests, extensions should be requested when they are needed. While responses cannot be extended indefinitely, and records should be provided as soon as practicable, extensions of thirty days are generally considered reasonable.
Don’t Call, Write: All communications regarding OPRA requests should be in writing. OPRA requires that responses, grants of access and denials of access be in writing. Create a paper trail so that there is a clear record regarding what was communicated and when it was communicated.
Ask the Requester for Help: If the records custodian is not sure what is being requested, or if the request requires clarification, ask that the request be clarified. A request for clarification is not a denial of access, and can help narrow the focus of the request.
Provide Specific Reasons for Denials of Access: If access must be denied to records, provide specific reasons for the denial. A general statement that a record is not a public record or is confidential generally will not be sufficient.
Get Legal Advice: OPRA law is constantly changing and being updated, especially through new Court cases. Records custodians should be knowledgeable about major developments in OPRA (such as a new Supreme Court case) and should ask for legal assistance often, especially when a request asks for documents or information that relate to sensitive issues or implicate privacy interests.