What are D.C. Public Records?
D.C public records include all books, maps, photographs, papers, audio/video recordings, tapes, and other types of documentary items created, owned, used, or retained by a public body government agency. It also includes all records in electronic and hardcopy format. Records don’t necessarily have to be created by a public body or agency. Records are considered open to the public as long as they're under a public body’s legal and physical control. According to the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), public bodies generally include:
- The public/government agencies
- The Mayor
- The Council of the District of Columbia (with the exclusion of D.C.courts)
What Constitutes A Public Record In The District Of Columbia?
In the District of Columbia, all records collected, compiled, and maintained by public bodies in the course of public business are public records. Examples of records that may be disclosed to the public include:
- A public body’s personnel names, salaries, title, and dates of employment of all employees and officers
- Administrative staff manuals and instructions
- D.C arrest records
- All orders and opinions made in the adjudication of cases
- Statements and interpretations of policy
- Acts and rules adopted by a public body
- Contracts, proposals, and bids
- Election records
- All materials relating to the responsibilities of a public body, including its regulatory, enforcement, and supervisory responsibilities
- Information of all contract dealings and fundings of the public bodies
- Budget requests, submissions, and reports
- The minutes of all proceedings of all public bodies
- All names and mailing addresses of ‘absentee real property owners and their agents
- Records of applications for building permits
- Copies of all records (regardless of format) that have been released to any person under the D.C. Act, etc
Each public body in charge of these records is obligated to make them available on the internet or via other electronic means.
What Type Of Information Is Disclosed In Public Records?
Public records in the District of Columbia carry information collected and documented in the course of public business, public dealings with citizens, and public bodies or agencies. These may include:
- D.C vital records
- Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and adoption.
- Personal information records
- Name, home address, contact information, license information, health information, etc
- Corporate information records;
- Minutes of meetings, budget, personnel records, etc
- D.C court records that document
- Arrests, court proceedings, imprisonment, etc
- Historical records of Culture and heritage information, research papers and census records, etc.
- Property Records
- Zoning maps, Real estate or real property assessment and sales databases, etc.
What Records Are Exempted From Public View?
All public bodies and agencies of the District government are obligated to provide public records, except for cases where the information is protected from disclosure by law. Government agencies can refuse to provide access to records covered by any of the following specific exemptions:
- Privacy/personal information whose public disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
- Trade secrets and financial information obtained from outside the government.
- Law enforcement and investigatory records could interfere with enforcement proceedings and council investigations.
- Test questions and answers to employee and academic examinations.
- National defense and terrorism records.
- Arson investigation records.
- Business Licensing Information.
- Autopsy and Coroner’s reports, etc.
The public body maintaining these records bears the burden of proving that the exemption applies.
Are Public Records Available At Libraries?
Public libraries store and maintain public records and also make them available on request in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) is a public library system with about 25 individual libraries that seek to provide access, preserve, collect and maintain records and materials of historical relevance to the cultural, social, and political growth of the District of Columbia. Simply put, these libraries endeavor to connect the community to its history through these records, which is a fulfillment of the public policy of the state, that everyone is entitled to complete information on the affairs of the state. These libraries have digital platforms or libraries that make it easier for inquirers to access records from anywhere.
How To Find Free North Dakota Public Records
The FOIA statutes obligate public bodies to make all records deemed “public” open to the public. Record access may be available on the internet, agency websites/databases, and other electronic means. This not only gives free access for interested persons but also, eases the lengthy process of acquiring public records. Inquirers could also visit the public agency responsible for storing and maintaining a certain record of interest to ‘inspect’ these records for free. However, charges may apply if other formats are requested or if a thorough search is required to locate requested records.
Step 1. Determine the type of record required.
Inquirers need to know what type of record is required to better understand where to look. Most records across the states are classified generally into ;
- D.C vital records which include records of deaths, births, marriages, etc
- The D.C court or criminal records, which include records of arrests, court proceedings, incarceration, etc
- Historical records of cultural, social, and political facts about the state.
- Administrative records
- Personnel records, etc.
Step 2. Determine the government agency in the custody of the public records.
The District of Columbia Office of Public Records holds a wide array of public records in the state including:
- Administrative records
- Architectural records
- Engineering records
- Historical records
- Genealogical records
- Legal records
- Birth Certificates
- Death Certificates
- Marriage Certificates
- Indentures of Apprenticeship
- Guardianship and Administrative Bonds, all from selected years as far back as the 1700s.
The office of public records and archives compiles, collects, and manages records of the government via services of the District of Columbia Archives, Records Center, and the Library of Government Information. Also, The District of Columbia Department of Health maintains the vital records for the area. The inquirer should note that birth certificates only become public records 100 years after their issuance and death certificates are available 50 years after the death.
Step 3. Determine accessibility.
The FOIA statute allows records to be accessible to the public but also provides that certain types and categories of documents should not be disclosed to the public. Some of these documents include records relating to law enforcement activities, records that are subject to legal attorney-client privileges or work-product privileges, documents sealed by district or federal law, records that result in intrusion of privacy, or jeopardize a citizen's safety, etc. It is advisable for the inquirer to determine how accessible a record of interest is before proceeding.
Step 4. Determine the Availability.
The FOIA statutes obligate public bodies and agencies to make their records available on digital online platforms, websites, and databases to ease access. Most public records are available online and if they're not, these platforms directly inform the inquirer of the availability or unavailability of a selected record. Inquirers may also decide to visit the agency responsible for the records of choice.
Step 5. Contact the Record Holder
According to the FOIA, every agency is assigned a record holder or FOIA officer, who is in charge of maintaining and granting access to the records. More to the point, anyone can request public documents. D.C's public record laws state that ‘_all persons_are entitled to complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees’’. Persons, in this case, means individuals, corporations, and public or private organizations of all kinds other than the Mayor, the Council, or an agency. Some of the things to consider when submitting a request include:
- Inquirers may be able to submit a request online via the District of Columbia public FOIA portal, or, through the mail, fax, and even in person
- If the request is being sent in a tangible form like fax or mail, requests must be marked FOIA Request or Freedom of Information request. This should be the subject of an email request also.
- The inquirer should also include the necessary contact information and address just in case the FOIA officer needs to make contact.
- Requests must be as specific as possible. Requests may include dates, names, places, subjects, and other relevant details that aid the public body in identifying and locating the requested records. A broad or vague request will only lengthen and delay the process, hence, specificity is advised.
- The request shouldn’t necessarily have a statement of purpose for which the inquirer is seeking those records, because there is no requirement in the FOIA statutes that mandates an explanation, however, there is also no specific prohibition to stop the public body from inquiring.
Response To Request
The public bodies are obligated to respond to requests within 15 business days (excluding weekends and public holidays) after it is received by the FOIA officer. In the case of unusual circumstances where more time is required, the public body could take another 10 business days to respond, provided that they contact the inquirer with the details and why the extension is necessary.
The inquirer is entitled to any form or format of the public record requested and the public body shall provide them provided the inquirer is ready to pay the costs of reproducing the record in the requested format. Despite being mandated to make reasonable efforts to respond to a request, which includes searching for the records in whichever format it is requested, these efforts on the public body’s part should not interfere with the regular operation of the public body's information system.
Fees and Waivers
Public bodies do not charge for placing FOIA requests to access records, however, charges may apply for searching, reproducing, and revising. In the case that records requested are not found or available due to exemption, charges may still apply for searching. “Search” in this case according to the statutes means using automated or manual means to review public records to locate those which are requested by an inquirer.
Waivers could be a possibility if the inquirer explains in the FOIA request letter how access to the records benefits the public, hence, if the public body determines that a waiver or fee reduction is in the public’s best interest, it may be granted. All Fees should be within reasonable standard charges for search, reproduction, duplication, and review when records are requested for commercial purposes, for scholarly and scientific research, or media.
Because of the Freedom of Information Act, public records are accessible by anyone in the public, which includes third-party organizations. These organizations also charge fees but offer the benefit of flexible search algorithms in some cases. Because they are not government-sponsored, record availability may vary from official government channels. Nonetheless, these organizations offer a good place to start a record search as they require less information upfront, and may offer an alternative for citizens seeking information.
Can A District Of Columbia Public Records Request Be Rejected?
Requests for records could be rejected if the documents contain exempted information or if the records are sealed by law. In this case, the FOIA officer of the public body maintaining the records is obligated to contact the inquirer with the details. If the requested records are exempted, the public body must specify which statute(s) permit the withholding.
For some requests, the public body may still provide parts of a public record after the deletion of exempted portions. If this is done, the justification for the deletion shall be explained in written details and the extent of the deletion shall be indicated on the available portion of the record (except for cases where indication would harm an interest protected by the exemption). If a public body delays a response without contacting the inquirer with the important details or generally handles the request unsatisfactorily, the inquirer has the right to file an appeal or seek judicial review.
This administrative appeal is to petition the mayor to review the record, if it may be viewed or withheld from public inspection. The FOIA expects agencies to handle all requests professionally and expeditiously, to make reasonable efforts to locate records for anyone who inquires, if there is a breach of that law, an appeal should be made. “Reasonable efforts” means that a public body shall not be required to expend more than 8 hours of personnel time to reprogram or reformat records.
Making an administrative appeal
This appeal is to be submitted to the Mayor by mail, fax, or through the D.C. government FOIA portal. The appeal must include;
- The original request letter,
- The public body’s denial letter,
- A written statement of arguments or situations in support of the information sought by the inquirer’s request
Similar to the initial request letter, the subject line of the appeal letter must be ‘Freedom of Information Act Appeal’, or FOIA Appeal. If the Mayor decides that the public record may not be withheld, he shall order the public body to disclose the record immediately.