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Open Records F.A.Q.

Frequently Asked Questions of the Georgia Open Records Act

What is the Georgia Open Records Act?
What is a public record?
Does the Open Records Act apply to the University of West Georgia?
What is the purpose of the Open Records Act?
What obligation does the Open Records Act place on West Georgia?
Are there records which may be exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Are student records subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Are student evaluations of academic courses subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Are personnel files subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Are performance evaluations subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Are e-mail messages I send and receive subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
As a University employee, what is my responsibility to preserve public records?
Must the University notify employees named in records being disclosed?
What if I have a question about whether the records requested from me fall under the law?
Can the University charge requestors for the cost of copies and staff time used in the search?
How critical is the time element in complying with the Open Records Act?

Answers that are provided to the following questions are only intended for educational purposes and should not be used without seeking advice from the Open Records Officer and/or the Assistant to the President.

What is the Georgia Open Records Act?
It is a state law requiring that public records are open and available for inspection by any member of the public.

What is a public record?
Public records include virtually all records of state agencies, including documents, maps, photographs, videotapes, handwritten notes, and computer data, including e-mail. Any record is considered public if created or held by a state agency, held by a private person working for a state agency, or created by a state agency but held in a location away from it.

Does the Open Records Act apply to the University of West Georgia?
Yes. Because the University and all State-supported colleges and universities are public agencies, they are subject to the Act.

What is the purpose of the Open Records Act?
The purpose is not only to encourage public access to certain information, but to maintain the public's confidence in government by discouraging secrecy and closed records. The Act allows the public to evaluate the functioning of its public institutions.

What obligation does the Open Records Act place on West Georgia?
The University must provide access to existing public records in its custody or under its control, including those the University created and those it has received in the course of its operation. We are not required to create a record which does not exist at the time of the request. While the Act states that we may not be required to compile requested information into a single document (i.e. additional analysis, programming, data manipulation or formatting), the Georgia Attorney General advises that the University make every reasonable attempt to comply with these types of requests.

Are there records which may be exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act?
There are exemptions, but they are limited and have been interpreted very narrowly by the courts. The law presumes all records are open and places the burden on the University to demonstrate that any requested materials are exempt. If a public record contains both exempt and non-exempt material, the exempt portion must be removed and the remaining non-exempt material disclosed. The exemptions most relevant to UWG are:

Are student records subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes, some are. Under the Act, student directory information is considered open. Student directory information was defined in the Family Equal Rights and Privacy Act and include:

Student information that is not considered open include:

Are student evaluations of academic courses subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. Since 1988, it has been the opinion of the state Attorney General that such documents are open.

Are personnel files subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. However, any exempt material in personnel files, such as Social Security numbers, medical information, or information relating to the designation of beneficiaries, may be excluded.

Are performance evaluations subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. There is no exemption for performance evaluations.

Are e-mail messages I send and receive subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. Any e-mail sent or received on University-owned equipment, no matter where it is housed, or through private equipment housed on UWG property, no matter whether it is business-related, is subject to disclosure.

As a University employee, what is my responsibility to preserve public records?
Although other federal and state laws require the University to maintain certain records for a period of years, no particular records are required to be maintained by the Georgia Open Records Act until they have been requested. Once actual records that are kept by the University are the subject of a request, these records may not be erased, shredded, or otherwise disposed of under penalty of law.

Must the University notify employees named in records being disclosed?
While there is no such requirement in the law, the University will do its best to notify employees whose performance evaluations or personnel files are being released under an Open Records request.

What if I have a question about whether the records requested from me fall under the law?
Whenever you receive a request, you should immediately contact the Open Records Officer and/or the Assistant to the President. These two individuals will evaluate the request for applicability under the law and determine the appropriate response.

Can the University charge requestors for the cost of copies and staff time used in the search?
The law allows a copying fee not to exceed 25 cents per page and a charge for staff time used in the search, based on the pay rate of the lowest-paid employee qualified to search and assemble the records in question after the first fifteen minutes of employee time expended.

All revenue collected for copying and other expenses should be placed into the budget of the department(s) doing the work.

How critical is the time element in complying with the Open Records Act?
It is very critical that any unit receiving a request for records immediately notify the Open Records Officer and/or the Assistant to the President. The three-day clock for the University to comply under the law starts when an individual or department receives the request, not when it is relayed to the Open Records Officer and/or the Assistant to the President. It is the responsibility of department chairs to ensure there is no delay in this notification to these two individuals who are responsible for compliance under University policy. Failure to comply with a request or failure to comply within the three-day period can be considered a misdemeanor offense and the individuals who do not comply could be arrested and fined up to $100.