Filing an open records request is easy, but to ensure you get what you want and keep costs as low as possible, here are some suggestions:
- ALWAYS be polite and professional.
- If you are not sure how to word your request, you can always call or email the records custodian. A quick, simple email or phone call can go a long way toward avoiding any misunderstanding. For example, if you ask for a copy of the budget, the records custodian might think you want a 1,000 page document when you only wanted the 2 page summary. On the other hand, if you get a 2 page summary when you wanted the 1,000 page document, the record custodian might have provided that because the last 3 people who requested the budget only wanted the summary. Even though you will get a quote on any request over $25, you do not want to put the records custodian through hours of work trying to estimate the cost when a simple email might have clarified what you wanted. When identifying the documents you want, just use plain language. You don’t have to use legalese to describe what you want.
- It is usually better and less expensive to start with a narrow request. You can always expand your request in a subsequent request. For example, if you want to learn the cost of a park bench, be very specific. Do not send in a blanket request for all documents related to park benches in your county or you will get more than you bargained for! You might want to request a copy of the last check written for a park bench or a copy of the last invoice the county paid for park benches. After receiving the open records response, if you need more information, an additional request can be made.
- If you are not sure how to get started, send us an email and we can help you find out who to contact and how to get the information you need. Even those of us who have a lot of experience filing open records requests sometimes find it helpful to bounce ideas off of other people. We’re always glad to help. Just remember that we are all volunteers and it may take 24 to 48 hours to answer your email.
- Just another reminder: ALWAYS be polite and professional!