OpenCDA

March 28, 2008

Public Records Request

Filed under: — Dan Gookin @ 12:00 pm

Idaho Statutes, Title 9, chapter 3 states in part:

There is a presumption that all public records in Idaho are open at all reasonable times for inspection . . .

It’s your government. They work for you. (Or they’re supposed to.) Therefore, everything that the produce is available for you to view or copy, within reason. The specifics allowing you access are provided in Idaho Code, sections 9-337 through 9-350.

The government must comply with your request. Indeed, often times request forms are readily available on web sites. You fill out the request, mail it in, then you get a reply.

I’ve been making public requests for a while now. Often times I get exactly what I’m looking for, including information that makes the agency look foolish. Sometimes they happily give me documents that prove my point or makes public something that they’d prefer be kept out of the public view. But that’s the nature of our system, and why we believe that government should be open. It’s your government!

In my experience, however, there are times when the government appears to enjoy toying with you. At first, when I requested information from the LCDC, they supplied it to me rather quickly. Recently, however, they run my requests by their attorney in Bosie. I know of one request made of the LCDC that apparently sat for 3 weeks in the LCDC’s PO Box. Also, when you ask a vague question, expect a vague answer. But that only happens when you’re really on to something and they’re trying to obfuscate, delay, or exhaust you. Don’t give up!

It helps to know their lingo. You must make a request using the government’s language, terms, and jargon. If you don’t, then the information you get may not be what you wanted in the first place. So expect to ask again and again and refine your question.

They can charge you for copies. It’s 5¢ a page. But you can look at the information at no cost. Also, a general request may result in many, many pages of information. For instance, when Bill asked for correspondence between the City and Results Group, he was told it would cost $500 to copy all the information. A request for e-mail correspondence often meets with a high fee as well, as they charge you for the tech person’s time to search e-mail records.

When you get the information you ask for, make it public! Let people know! You can use this forum, or e-mail any of us (Bill, Dan, Mary) and we’d be happy to help you make known what you’ve found.

Sample Letter

Feel free to use this sample as your guide to writing a public records request:

[Date]

[Agency Name]
[Contact Name (optional)]
[Agency's Address]

To Whom It May Concern:

The following information is requested pursuant to the provisions of Idaho Code §§9-337 through 9-350, the Idaho Public Records Law.

[State your request.]

[Perhaps list bullet points or a numbered list of what you want. Be specific.]

Thank you for your time in addressing my request.

[Signature]
[Your address]
[Phone number]

They have 3 days to respond to your request. They can take up to 10 working days, perhaps longer but they will keep you informed on the progress. They can deny your request, but you do have a right to appeal the denial.

Helpful Info

City of Coeur d’Alene
Attn: City Clerk
710 E. Mullan Ave.
Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814

LCDC
Attn: Tony Berns
105 N. 1st St.
Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814
Public Info Request form (PDF)

Kootenai County
451 Government Way
Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814
Public Records Request Form (PDF)

School District 271
311 N. 10th Street
Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814

Idaho Code: Title 9 index.

3 Comments »

  1. the holy grail of public info is the check register. it spells out who and when they got the money.

    Comment by paul — June 28, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

  2. paul,

    Your statement is correct, but only if the register you receive is timely, accurate, complete, and the only one. It also assumes that checks are the only method of payment. If payment is made in cash, by electronic fund transfer, or by some other non-check medium, then the check register is only one of the documents you need to get a complete picture.

    Comment by Bill — June 28, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  3. Don’t forget to request the register and the chart of accounts.

    Comment by Susie Snedaker — June 28, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

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