During the Office of Open Records’ training sessions, we often get a question along these lines:
Does an agency have to require a Right-to-Know request before releasing records?
Our answer is unequivocal: No. Records can be provided informally.
In fact, it often makes better sense for an agency to release records informally rather than requiring an official RTK request.
A few examples:
- Meeting minutes: These are among the most basic of records and should be easily available. If an agency has a website, minutes should be posted online. That reduces work for the agency and makes this basic information easily available to the public.
- Meeting agendas: Many agencies post meeting agendas online prior to meetings, and the OOR strongly encourages this. Again, it saves the agency work and makes important information easily available to the public. (Legislation to require this passed the House in the 2019-20 legislative session and will likely be reintroduced in the 2021-22 session.)
- Board packets: The information provided to board members (e.g., county commissioners, members of a school board, borough council, etc.) to refer to at a public meeting is usually public. On occasion, some of the information may be able to be withheld under the RTKL. But having copies of the public information in the packets available to the public — online, if possible — before a meeting starts is strongly encouraged.
- Annual budgets: The budget process is one of the most important any agency goes through every year and financial records are the most public of all records under the RTKL.
Even if an agency doesn’t post these records online, they can be provided to a requester without requiring a formal RTK request. Forcing every request for information, no matter how simple, into the RTKL process generates unnecessary work for agencies and slows down the process of getting that information to the public.
As agencies continue to hold meetings virtually (or a combination of virtual and in person) during the COVID-19 pandemic, considering steps like these is even more important. It’s challenging enough for the public to follow agency business during normal meetings; that challenge is only increased when the meeting is held online.
The Office of Open Records welcomes and encourages questions from agencies and requesters alike. The best way to contact us is to use the contact form on our website.