What is the Ohio Public Records Act?

The Ohio Public Records Act is built on the United States’ historical position that the records of government are “the people’s records.” The Public Records Act provides citizens with steps to take in order to request records from any public office in Ohio while protecting certain specific types of records from release. It also establishes a legal process to enforce compliance when a requester feels that a public office has failed to satisfy its public records obligations.

Who can make a request for public records?

Any person can request public records by simply asking for them. Usually, the request can be made in any manner the requester chooses: by phone, in person, or in an e-mail or letter. The requester cannot be required to identify him- or herself, or to explain why the records are being requested, unless a specific law requires it. Often, however, a voluntary discussion about the requester’s purposes or interest in seeking certain information can aid the public office in locating and producing the desired records.

What does a public office have to do when it receives a public records request?

A public office must organize and maintain its records to meet its duty to respond to public records requests and must keep a copy of its records retention schedule at a location readily available to the public. When it receives a public records request for specific existing records, the public office must provide inspection of the requested records during regular business hours or provide copies within a reasonable period of time. A requester is entitled to delivery of copies at the actual cost of packaging and delivery by any available means of delivery or transmission he or she requests.

The public office may withhold specific records or specific portions of records that are covered by an exception to the Public Records Act but is required to give the requester an explanation for any part of a record withheld, including the legal authority that requires or permits that withholding. In addition to denials based on an exception, a public office may deny a request in the extreme circumstance where compliance would unreasonably interfere with the discharge of the office’s duties. A request can also be refused if the office no longer keeps the records, if the request is for items that are not records of the office, if the requester does not revise an ambiguous or overly broad request, or if the requester refuses to pay the cost of copies.

To whom does the Public Records Act apply?

The rights and duties set out in the act apply only to a “public office or person responsible for public records,” which includes governmental subdivisions, private entities that are the “substantial equivalent” of public institutions, and other “persons responsible for public records.” The act does not apply to private corporations or other organizations and is also different from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which applies only to federal agencies.

What is a "public record"?

A public record means any records kept by any public office, except those records that are otherwise identified as exempt under the Ohio Public Records Act or the release of which is prohibited by state or federal law.

Ohio Revised Code § 149.011(G):

As used in this chapter, "records" include [1] any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic; [2] created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its political subdivisions; [3] which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.

What types of documents at the University can be considered a public record?

Public records include, but are not limited to, personnel files; salary and compensation information; search records of personnel; meeting minutes; documents created and provided to parties outside the university, such as contracts and textbook lists for the upcoming quarter; and certain correspondence, in whatever medium or format including email, which documents University operations.

Is all information that is contained in a record disclosable?

Not all information contained in a record (or for that matter the record itself) is subject to release under the public records law. For example, Social Security numbers should always be removed from a document before it is released. Moreover, certain personally identifiable information of enrolled students and records containing intellectual property or trade secrets are not to be released.

Can an individual inspect a public record in person?

Yes. An individual may inspect records at a mutually convenient time arranged during business hours. However, if the person also would like copies of records and such records cannot be readily copied due to the volume or the need to remove certain information , you may have the requestor return at a later date to collect copies or make arrangements for copies to be mailed to the requestor.

Are there fees for retrieving and copying records?

The law allows us to require prepayment of costs associated with producing copies, including copying and mailing expenses. Generally, the University may charge only its actual cost of producing copies of the records.

What if my office or department receives a public records request?

The office or department should contact the Univesity's Records Compliance officer to coordinate a response. As a public office, the University is required to provide records to a requestor within a reasonable period of time. All efforts should be made to comply with the individual's request within this timeframe. Sometimes, however, the request may be so broad and ambiguous that the request cannot be fulfilled. While an individual is not required to submit a request in writing to inspect or receive a copy of a public record, the university encourages the requestor to submit a written request as an effort to minimize any confusion and to prevent any misunderstanding on either part as to the records the requestor is seeking.

Where can an individual make a public records request to the university?

Public record requests can be made directly to Mr. Campbell, the University's Records Compliance Officer by mail, email, phone or in person during normal business hours at:

Scott M. Campbell
Assistant General Counsel and Records Compliance Officer
302 Buchtel Hall, Rexford Suite 63
Akron, Ohio 44325-4706
(330) 972-7226

Resources and Links

The Ohio Public Records Statute is codified in Ohio Revised Code 149.43, and can be found on line at: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/149.43

The Office of the Ohio Attorney General publishes a handbook entitled "Ohio Sunshine Laws Update," which can be found on the Attorney General's website at: http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/YellowBook