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Public Records

Public Records Custodian: Heidi Culbertson, cityclerk@cityofstbernard.org

Public Records Policy

I. Policy
II. Purpose
III. Definitions
IV. Scope
V. Procedures
VI. Payment
VII. Email
VIII. Denial of a Public Records Request
IX. Compliance
X. Exceptions/Change

I. Policy

It is the policy of the Village of St. Bernard to make all public records available for public inspection by any person at reasonable times in accordance with ORC 149.43 (B)( 1). All records of the Village of St. Bernard are public unless they are exempt from disclosure under the Ohio Revised Code or other applicable law.

II. Purpose

The primary purpose of this policy is to set forth a general procedure for providing Village-wide, consistent, prompt, and equitable service to citizens and others requesting access to public records. The Ohio Revised Code sets forth categories of records to which the official custodian of records shall allow public access and categories of records to which the official custodian shall deny access. If a court finds that denial of access to the document was arbitrary and capricious, the court may order that the Village pay the applicant’s court costs and attorney’s fees in an amount to be determined by the court. The secondary purpose of this policy is to establish reasonable and consistent fees for providing copies as authorized by the Ohio Revised Code.

III. Definitions

"Records," as defined by ORC 149.011 (G), includes any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, including an electronic record as defined in ORC 1306.01, created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of the state or its political subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office

"Public Record," as defined by ORC 149.43 (A), means records kept by any public office, including, but not limited to state, county, village, village, township, and school district units, and records pertaining to the delivery of educational services by an alternative school in this state kept by the nonprofit or for profit entity operating the alternative school pursuant to ORC 3313.533. ORC l49.43(A) expressly excludes certain categories of records from the definition of "public record." See ORC l49.43(A)(l)(a)-(y).

IV. Scope

This policy shall apply to all Village records and copies of information requested or released with the exception of records exempted from the definition of "public record" under ORC l49.43(A).

V. Procedures

The Village clerk is the official Public Records Custodian of all records which are centrally maintained by the Village except to the extent any such records fall within the scope of the Clerk-Treasurer. The clerk is designated to attend records training approved by the Attorney General in lieu of attendance by elected officials unless any elected official attends such training or designates otherwise. Department heads or their designees are the official Public Records Custodians of all records maintained within their departments. It is the responsibility of each department head to become familiar with and to educate his/her affected employees about the standards and requirements of this policy.

Public records requests will be accommodated during regular business hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. local time on regular business days. Public records requests will not be accepted on weekends, holidays, or outside regular business hours.

A public records request may be made in writing or verbally. The Public Records Custodian may ask the requester to put a verbal request in writing, or for the requester to give identifying information, but neither a written request nor identifying information are required. However, such would benefit the requester by enhancing the ability of the Public Records Custodian to identify, locate, and deliver the public records requested. If the Public Records Custodian asks a requester to put the request in writing, the Public Records Custodian shall disclose to the requester that compliance is not required.

The law allows the Public Records Custodian to ask the requester about the use to which the requester will put the records, but only if the inquiry would enhance the Public Records Custodian's ability to comply with the records request and only if the Public Records Custodian discloses to the requester that compliance is not required. All Public Records Custodians shall comply with these requirements.

Although no specific language is required to make a request, the requester must at least identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow the public office to identify, retrieve, and review the records. If it is not clear what records are being sought, the records custodian must contact the requester for clarification, and should assist the requestor in revising the request by informing the requestor of the manner in which the office keeps its records.

Public records can be accessed by one of the following methods: a request to view public records in person; a request for copies of public records that the requester will personally pick up from the Public Records Custodian; or a request for copies of public records that the requester wants to have mailed or otherwise delivered to the requester. The Public Records Custodian shall organize and maintain records in a manner so they can be made available for inspection and copying.

Request to view public records. The requester may make a request to view public records to the Public Records Custodian, who shall prepare the public records for inspection "promptly," as required by the Ohio Revised Code. The actual time required to comply with the request may depend on the circumstances, such as the location of the records or the volume of records being requested.

Copies of public records. The requester may make a request to have copies of public records made to the Public Records Custodian. Copies made by the Village on 8 ½" x 11" paper are $0.05 per black and white single—sided copy. All copy charges must be paid in advance before copies are made. If the Public Records Custodian uses an outside copying service to make the copies (see the following paragraph), the requester will be required to pay the cost of the entire copying job, as billed by the copying service. Copies that are requested in some format other than paper will be "at cost," without taking into account employee time spent preparing the copies. For example, public records in electronic format placed on a CD will be assessed the cost of the CD, plus the cost, if any, of creating the electronic copies.

Public records will be copied only by the Public Records Custodian or other authorized officers, employees, or representatives. The Public Records Custodian may use an outside copying service to make the copies, at the Public Records Custodian’s discretion. Under no circumstances will the requester be permitted to make the copies himself or herself The manner of the making of copies is at the discretion of the Public Records Custodian. Requests to copy a certain number of public records on a given page, by "reducing" copy size or otherwise, may be met at the discretion of the Public Records Custodian.

Copies will be made available by the Public Records Custodian "within a reasonable time," as required by the Ohio Revised Code. The time for compliance will depend upon the availability of records and the volume of records requested.

Transmitting copies of public records. A requester may request that copies of public records be transmitted to him or her by U.S. Mail or by any other means of transmission that is available and is conducive to transmitting the public records, such as FedEx, UPS, fax, or e-mail. The cost of transmitting must be paid by the requester before the public records will be transmitted. There is no charge for documents which are e-mailed. While the Village is under no obligation to provide records in electronic format, it is the policy of the Village to provide information to the public in the most convenient way that is practical, considering all of the circumstances. Therefore, if the Village receives a request for information to be made available in an electronic format, such request will be forwarded to the Public Records Custodian for a determination as to whether such information will be generated and released in an electronic format.

Copies will be transmitted to the requester by the Public Records Custodian "within a reasonable time," as required by the Ohio Revised Code. The time for compliance will depend upon the availability of records and the volume of records requested. No Public Records Custodian shall establish a fixed period time of eight hours or more before it will respond to a request for inspection or copying.

Retention schedules. Each department shall have a copy of its current records retention schedule readily available to the public.

VI. Payment

Charges for copies or for transmission of copies (e. g., via fax, U.S. Mail, Fed Ex, UPS, etc.) can be paid for in cash or by check/money order/certified check, made payable to Village of St. Bernard. If payment is made by check, copies will not be made until the check has cleared and been paid by the requester’s bank. All charges must be paid in their entirety, in advance. A requester may pay an amount that the Public Records Custodian estimates to cover the cost of copies or means of transmission. If that amount is determined to be insufficient, the copies will not be made or transmitted until the entire amount due is paid. If the amount was in excess of the cost of the copies or means of transmission, the excess will be repaid to the requester. The Public Records Custodian has the authority to waive such fees and charges.

VII. Email

Documents in electronic mail format are records as defined by the Ohio Revised Code when their content meets the definition of non-exempt public records. E-mail is to be treated in the same fashion as records in other formats and should follow the same retention schedules.

Those records in private e-mail accounts used to conduct public business are subject to disclosure, and all employees or representatives of the Village of St. Bernard are instructed to retain their e-mails that relate to public business and to copy them to their business e-mail accounts.

The Public Records Custodian is to treat the e-mails from private accounts as records of the Village of St. Bernard, filing them in the appropriate way, retaining them per established schedules and making them available for inspection and copying in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code.

VIII. Denial of a Public Records Request

Under certain circumstances, records are not defined as "public records" under Ohio law. In these situations, the public records request will be denied on that basis. The Ohio Revised Code requires that any denial be supported by legal authority. A denial that is responding to a written public records request will also be given in writing. Written reasons for denial will not be required for non-written public records requests.

The Ohio Revised Code regards certain actions as being "denials" of public record requests. These situations are addressed in the following paragraphs.

Redaction. The Ohio Revised Code defines a "redaction" as "obscuring or deleting any information that is exempt from the duty to permit public inspection or copying from an item that otherwise meets the definition of a ‘record’ in section 149.011 of the Revised Code." Examples of redaction are "blacking out" or "whiting out" or "cutting out" portions of a document.

When a public record contains information that is not within the definition of a "public record" as defined by law, the Public Records Custodian will make available that portion of the public record that does meet the definition of a "public record." The Public Records Custodian shall make a copy of the public record, perform the redaction, then make a copy of that sheet and make the second copy available to the requester. The requester will not be charged for the first copy made. The first copy will be retained by the Public Records Custodian. Each redaction must either be identified or plainly visible, and, as a denial of a request, must be accompanied by a supporting explanation, including legal authority.

Requests that are ambiguous, overly broad, or difficult to identify the public records requested. At times, a requester may make a public records request from which the Public Records Custodian cannot determine what public records the requester is seeking. In such circumstances, the Public Records Custodian will inform the requester that the public records request is denied but will give the requester an opportunity to more accurately describe the public records sought. lf the requester is seeking public records organized in a certain way, but the public records are not organized in that way, the Public Records Custodian will inform the requester of the manner that the public records of the office under discussion are maintained and accessed. The requester may then submit a public records request that more accurately reflects the organization of the public records and the actual public records sought by the requester.

IX. Compliance

With any public records request, the Public Records Custodian reserves the right to consult with legal counsel prior to the release of such public records. This is to allow the Village of St. Bernard to comply with laws prohibiting the release of certain records.

X. Exceptions/Change

This policy supersedes all previous policies covering the same or similar topics. Exceptions to this policy may be granted only by the Public Records Custodian. This policy may be reviewed and changed at any time by the Mayor.