PUBLIC RECORDS DEFINED
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR” or “Department”), in accordance with the Public Records Act (Section 149.43 of the Ohio Revised Code), defines a “public record” as including the following:
Any item (1) that is stored on a fixed medium (i.e., paper, computer, film); (2) that is created, received, or sent by a public office; and (3) that documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the Department.
PUBLIC RECORD STATUS DEPENDENT ON USE AND SUBSTANCE
The determination of whether a particular item is a public record focuses on the use and substance of the document or record, not on the form of the document or record, or where and how it was created.
E-MAIL AS PUBLIC RECORD
Documents in electronic mail format are records as defined by the Public Records Act when their content relates to the business of the office, or are used to conduct public business. E-mail is to be treated in the same fashion as records in other formats and should follow the same retention schedules.
USE OF PRIVATE E-MAIL ACCOUNTS FOR PUBLIC BUSINESS
The Department discourages the use of private e-mail accounts (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, or any other private internet provider accounts) to conduct public business. However, the Department recognizes that staff cannot always prevent third parties from sending e-mails related to public business to staff private e-mail accounts. Any correspondence and/or documents created with or in private e-mail accounts which are used to conduct public business are public records and subject to disclosure. ODNR employees are instructed to retain any private-account e-mails that relate to public business and to copy them to their State e-mail accounts and/or to the Department’s Record Officer.
PUBLIC RECORD MAINTENANCE AND ORGANIZATION
The Department will organize and maintain all public records in a manner that serves both the administrative needs of the office, as well as the public’s interest in the availability of those records for inspection and copying.
ODNR RECORD OFFICER
The Department shall designate a Department Record Officer who shall have the authority and responsibility of agency record officers as set forth at Chapter 149:1-1-02(A) of the Ohio Administrative Code. The Department’s Record Officer shall also act as the coordinator for ODNR records maintenance and assist ODNR legal counsel in coordinating responses made to requests for public records.
RECORD RETENTION SCHEDULE TO BE POSTED
ODNR record retention schedules are to be dated regularly and posted prominently on the Department’s website: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/.
DIVISION/OFFICE PUBLIC RECORD COORDINATORS
Each division/office shall designate an individual(s) to handle routine requests for documents or records. The designated individual(s) shall review the request and determine if any records are maintained in a separate division/office. If requested records are maintained in a separate division/office, the designated individual shall immediately forward copies of the request to the appropriate personnel in the division/office and to the Office of Legal Services. The designated individual shall then follow-up with the Office of Legal Services and the division/office personnel compiling the records as needed to facilitate a prompt response.
Each request for public records should be evaluated for a response using the following guidelines:
IDENTIFICATION OF REQUESTED RECORD(S)
Although the Public Records Act does not require that specific language be required to make a public records request, the requester must identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow the public office to identify, retrieve, and review those records. If a request is received by the Department, and it is not clear what records are being sought, the Division/Office Coordinator, Department Record Officer, or Legal Counsel will contact the requester for clarification, and assist the requester in revising the request by informing the requester of the manner in which the office maintains its records.
FORM OF REQUEST
Requesters are encouraged to make any and all public records requests to the Department in written form. While the requester does not have to put a records request in writing, a written request enables the Department to identify responsive records with greater speed and accuracy, and to maintain a log of requests and responses. Identification of Requester and Intended Use of Records. A requester does not have to provide his or her identity or the intended use of the requested public record(s). In many cases, however, such information could enhance the Department’s ability to identify, locate, and/or deliver responsive public records in response to the request. If the Department’s Record Officer, a Division/Office Coordinator, or Legal Counsel determines that additional information would enhance the Department’s ability to identify, locate and/or deliver responsive records, s/he may ask the requester to: (i) put the request in writing, (ii) provide his or her name and address, and/or (iii) explain the purpose of the request or intended use of the information provided that the requester is informed that the requester may decline to provide any of this information. The Department may require sufficient contact information to fulfill the request, either by US Mail, electronic delivery, or inspection.
PUBLIC RECORD REQUEST LOG
All non-routine public record requests received by the Office of Legal Services and the Department’s Record Officer shall be entered into a log to record the following: name (if provided) and address (mail or e-mail) of requester; date request received; records requested; and date of response.
AVAILABILITY OF RECORDS
Public records will be made available for inspection during regular business hours. Public records must be made available for inspection promptly. Copies of public records must be made available within a reasonable period of time. “Prompt” and “reasonable” take into account the volume of records requested; the form of the requested records; the proximity of the location where the records are stored; and the necessity for any pre-release review of the records requested.
REVIEW OF ALL REQUESTS
All requests for public records must be either satisfied or acknowledged within three (3) working days after receipt of the request. Responses to public record requests will be completed in a reasonable time taking into account the scope of the request, the ease or difficulty of identifying, compiling, and reviewing potentially responsive records, and the operational needs of the Department.
Routine requests for records should be satisfied in an expedient manner. Routine requests include requests for materials that do not require either an extensive search for responsive documents or detailed pre-release review (e.g., press releases, forms and applications, and personnel rosters). If fewer than 50 pages of copies are requested or if the records are readily available in an electronic format that can be e-mailed or downloaded easily, these should be made available as quickly as is feasible.
If a request is deemed beyond “routine,” such as seeking a voluminous number of copies or requiring an extensive search for materials or pre-release review, the Department shall acknowledge receipt of the request in writing. Further, the written acknowledgement must include the following:
- An estimate of the time it will take to satisfy the request;
- An estimated cost if copies are requested;
- Identification of any items within the request that may be exempt from disclosure and/or subject to redaction.
NOTICE TO OFFICE OF LEGAL SERVICES AND DEPARTMENT’S RECORD OFFICER
All non-routine requests for public records shall be referred promptly to the Office of Legal Services and, when appropriate, the Department’s Record Officer, in a manner that facilitates timely acknowledgment of the request. If a member of the media makes a request, the recipient of the request must notify the Office of Communications.
The Department has an affirmative duty to review any and all records deemed initially responsive to a public record request. This pre-release review is required to prevent disclosure of personal information that may be protected by state and federal privacy laws (e.g., certain Social Security numbers, account numbers, and medical information) and certain confidential records that must not be disclosed under penalty of law e.g., certain investigatory, criminal, and education records). Additionally, documents must undergo a pre-release review to identify material protected by attorney-client and executive privilege, as well as to redact critical security and infrastructure records. Such records may be exempt from public disclosure under the Ohio Public Records Act;
WAIVER OF EXEMPTION
The availability of a privilege or an exemption under Ohio law shall not result in the automatic assertion of such privilege or exemption by the Department to deny the release of any public record, or any part of a public record. The Department will evaluate each potential assertion of any privilege or exemption by weighing the public’s interest in disclosure against the public’s interest in preventing the release of protected and confidential information. The Department may choose to waive any and all available assertions of privilege or exemption when providing materials responsive to a public record request. Waiver of any privilege and/or exemption should not be construed to waive, and does not in fact waive, any right to the future assertion of privilege and/or exemption;
DENIAL OF PUBLIC RECORD REQUEST
Any denial of public records requested must include an explanation, including legal authority. If portions of a record are public and portions are exempt, the exempt portions are to be redacted and the remainder released. If there are redactions, each redaction must be accompanied by a supporting explanation, including legal authority.
CALCULATION OF COSTS FOR PUBLIC RECORDS
ACTUAL COSTS - Those seeking public records will be charged only the actual cost of making copies, including charges for the following:
- The charge for paper copies is 5 cents ($.05) per 8 ½” by 11” page. Two-sided photocopies shall be charged at the rate of 10 cents ($.10) per page. Every effort will be made to provide two-sided copies when requested or appropriate;
- Paper copies larger than 8 ½” by 11” may be charged at a higher rate that reflects the actual costs of copying;
- The charge for downloaded computer files is one dollar ($1.00) per disc;
- There is no charge for documents e-mailed, except where third-party software and/or services are required to e-mail large electronic files;
- Copies or duplication of records that require the services of an outside vendor shall be charged to the requester at the actual cost billed or invoiced by the vendor;
- The requester may choose whether to have the record duplicated upon paper, upon the same medium in which the public record is kept, or any other medium on which the record can be duplicated;
- Requesters may ask that documents be mailed to them. They may be charged the actual cost of the postage and mailing supplies;
- Advance payment may be required for all actual costs of providing copies if the anticipated costs are substantial or the requester has a balance due from previous requests.
WAIVER OF COSTS
The Department may choose to waive any and all costs associated with fulfillment of a public record request. Any waiver of costs should not be construed to waive, and does not in fact waive, the Department’s right to request and collect actual costs associated with fulfillment of a later public record request.