Q: Dr. Sechrist, in your opinion, what is the reasonable amount of time for access to an Open Records Act filing as it pertains to documents and records relating to OCCC?
Like many issues, the most accurate answer is that it very much depends on the document or record being requested. For some requests, a reasonable amount of time could be a matter of days. But for other requests, a reasonable amount of time may be weeks. Let me explain.
First, the Open Records Act requires that the College provide prompt and reasonable access to documents that are permitted to be released. The College must consider the nature of the request, the number of records requested, the format of the record, and the effort necessary to compile and review the records. The College must also ensure that essential functions of the college are not disrupted and delayed while we work on the records request.
If the document is readily available, it still requires a careful review to ensure that we would not be violating state law, federal law (such as FERPA or [HIPAA]), or an employee’s right to privacy, as protected in the law, if the document were to be released. If portions need to be redacted, as required by law, then it takes more time for review and carefully redact the information. The Open Records Act does not specify a specific timetable, and the costs to provide the documents can be charged to the person making the request.
Some requests do not specify a document or a record that exists but are requests for information. The College must then take steps to determine if such a document that has the information exists in some form. That could take considerably longer to retrieve, then review for accuracy, and also review to determine if we can legally provide the information – a process that could take several weeks.
Some requests for either records or information are not required to be provided under the Open Records Act or are legally prohibited from being released – such as certain personnel records, attorney-client privileged documents, and information made confidential under the Americans with Disabilities Act, FERPA, [HIPAA], and other various state and federal laws and regulations.
Given the complexity of the law that requires some documents to be released and strictly prohibits other documents or information from being released, we require that the requests be made through our Public Relations and Marketing Department. The PR and Marketing staff ensures that all requests are handled in a timely manner, and more importantly, in accordance with the law – and are very careful not to release information or a document that would violate any applicable law or regulation.