| posted by Joe Hice |

Public records requests and release of information process

As a public university, NC State receives numerous requests from individuals and organizations to provide information pertaining to research, education, our outreach efforts, funding, personnel and more.  While we strive to fulfill these “public records requests” as quickly and completely as possible, it can be a challenge, especially given the daily requirements and work load of our staff.  When requests ask for information that goes back for months — even years — you can only imagine.

To help provide consistency in the way we respond to these requests, the university has revised guidelines created back in July 2002.  I’m posting a copy of the revisions here, but there are a couple of  things to remember;  First, requests need to be made in writing.  This helps us understand the scope and nature of the requests and helps us determine who should respond.  We’ll log the requests and are in the process of developing a more consistent method of tracking their progress within the university.

General requests should be made through the office of the General Counsel.  A records officer in that office will be responsible for logging, tracking, updating, etc.

Requests from the media will go through University Communications.  Our office will work directly with the public records officer on the requests.

We’ve also developed a more consistent process for tracking the amount of time spent on requests.  Using the written request, we’ll make an estimate on the amount of time required to fulfill the request.

While most requests can be handled quickly, there are times when we must devote a significant amount of time to responding.  The state allows state agencies and public universities to recover some of their costs associated with public records requests and we have done that in the past.  With the updated guidelines we have established a consistent approach to whether we charge anything for our time.  If it takes more than four hours to identify, gather and respond with the appropriate information, there will be a “special service charge” associated with the request (See section 5.0 below).

There is also a fee if we need to make a large number of copies in fulfilling the request.

Given the university’s desire to respond to requests in a timely and informed manner, I think the policy guidlines will be a big help.  Those making requests will know in advance how much time we expect to spend in fulfilling the request and whether there will be a charge or not. We’ll also be able to track our progress toward fulfilling requests as they come in.

Here’s a copy of the guidelines.   Check them out when you have a chance.

Passion Rules!

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History: First Issued: July 1, 2002; revised _______, 2010.

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1. Introduction

North Carolina State University, as a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina and an agency of the State of North Carolina, is  open and responsive to information requests from the public and the news media. NC State is committed to a policy of openness, honesty and cooperation with members of the public and the news media. This policy will be implemented in accordance with the NC Public Records Act, N.C.G.S. Chapter 132.

2. Public records requests and release of information to the news media

University Communications is the principal liaison with the news media. The news media should direct its request for information to the university’s News Services (919-515-3470).

Any request received directly from the news media by another unit on campus should be forwarded immediately to News Services for preparation of a response. University Communications is delegated the authority to determine if the request for records is from a representative of the news media or from an individual.

To assure coordination of media relations, only three offices at the university are authorized to issue news releases or to hold news conferences on behalf of the university. Those divisions are University Communications for university-wide activities, Agricultural Communications for cooperative extension and agricultural research activities and Sports Information for athletic activities. All news releases and news conferences should be coordinated through one of those offices. Faculty and staff are encouraged to utilize the resources of these offices, which work together to gain broad recognition of the university’s areas of excellence.

3. Public records requests from individuals

Individuals who seek public records of the university must submit a written request to the university’s Records Officer, Campus Box 7008, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7008. The Records Officer will determine the office or offices that hold the requested records, obtain those records, and prepare a response to the request from the individual.

An administrator, faculty member or staff member who receives a request directly from an individual should forward a copy of this regulation to the requestor, noting in particular the requirement that the request must be in writing and submitted to the Records Officer.

3.1 What is public information?

All records created or received in the course of university business, in whatever format, including but not limited to paper, photographs, recordings, emails or digital images, constitute public records unless an exception applies under federal or state law.

3.2 What is not public information?

Certain information is confidential under federal or state law and not subject to release including, but not limited to, the following types of information:

3.2.1 Personnel records — Information in an individual’s personnel record is confidential under the State Personnel Privacy Act, but  certain information about each employee as open to public inspection under N.C.G.S. 126-23.

3.2.2 University students’ academic, medical and counseling records * — State law mandates that medical and counseling records are confidential., In addition, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), restricts information that can be released about a student, but allows the release of directory information, unless the student files a request that it not be released (“privacy block”). Please see the NCSU’s FERPA Regulation for the definition of directory information.

a. Before releasing directory information about any student, the employee  receiving the request must  check with the Office of Registration and Records to determine whether a student has placed a privacy block on his or her directory information.

b. FERPA provides other exceptions for disclosure, including with the written consent of the student.

3.2.3 Library user records — State law (N.C. Gen. Statute 125-19) states that “a library shall not disclose any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library.” Exceptions include “when necessary for the reasonable operation of the library, upon written consent of the user, or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by law.”

3.2.4 Patent applications and other documents that contain trade secrets as defined in state law.

3.2.5 Certain contract or bid records prior to a final contract.

3.2.6 Attorney-client communications and trial preparation materials.

3.2.7 Certain criminal investigation and law enforcement records.

3.3 Crisis/emergency situations

NC State has established a Crisis Communications Plan to guide campus administrators, faculty and staff in the event of a crisis or emergency affecting the campus. Individuals who become aware of a potential crisis situation are urged to refer to the Crisis Communication Plan and to notify University Communications, News Services  or the appropriate department head, and to make themselves available to assist in gathering facts. University Communications, coordinating with the appropriate administrative officials identified in the Crisis Communications Plan, will release factual information through news releases, briefings or an official spokesperson.

4.0 Copying fee

If the requestor asks for copies of documents, the university may charge the actual costs of the copies. Generally, the university will not charge for the costs of copies unless the number of pages exceed fifty (50) pages. Thereafter, the charge will be five (5) cents per page.

5.0 Special service charge for extraordinary public records requests

If the request is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, or if producing the records in the medium requested results in an excessive use of information technology resources, then the university may charge, in addition to the copying fee, a special service charge. The special service charge will be reasonable and no greater than the actual costs incurred. The university considers more than four (4) hours to constitute extensive use of personnel. If preparation of the response to the request exceeds four (4) hours, the university will charge a presumed rate of $18.00 per hour for the additional time. The Records Officer will provide an estimate of the costs for an extraordinary request prior to making the records available for inspection or release and allow the requestor the option of either agreeing to pay the charge or revising the request to narrow its nature or scope. Multiple requests within a short period of time from the same individual will be considered a single request for purposes of determining whether to charge under this section.

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6 Responses to “Public records requests and release of information process”

  1. David Hiscoe says:

    very useful, very clear–thanks

  2. […] university, policy) North Carolina State University Chief Communications Officer Joe Hice posted a blog today announcing that the school has updated its public records policy. While I applaud the […]

  3. Joe, I have concerns about some of the guidelines in the updated public records policy. You can read my thoughts in this blog. I hope they are helpful: http://publicrecordsgeek.wordpress.com/.

  4. Liz Reyes says:

    Hi Joe, I love the blog. As expected, very insightful!

  5. Joe Hice says:

    Kelly: Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I’ll make sure our legal office has a chance to review. Can’t guarantee what they might do, but they will have a chance to see them.

  6. Joe, thanks for the response. I appreciate it.

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