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"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins

"Sunshine Advisory"

A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws

By Attorney General Tom Miller

November 2001

Personally Examining Records --

Giving a "Free Peek"

Do you know what obligations public offices have when a citizen asks to see a public record? Personal examination of records is just one of the ways citizens may have access to public records.

When a person visits a public office and asks to see a public record, several principles apply:

  • Every person has the right to personally examine public records at the physical location where the records are kept, unless a specific provision of law requires confidentiality or provides grounds to withhold the record from public scrutiny.

  • The office cannot charge a person to personally examine a public record while it is in the office's physical possession, unless a specific provision of law grants the office the right to charge a fee. The office may charge a person the actual cost for retrieving the record and for making any copies of the record that are requested -- but not for personally examining the record.

  • The right to personally examine public records does not extend to certain computer data bases or data processing software. Public offices are not required to provide direct access to their computers.

  • Understanding the right of every person to come to an office and personally examine public records helps assure that access to public records is provided in compliance with the law -- and helps forge a good relationship between public offices and the citizens they serve.

    This is the first "Sunshine Advisory" issued by the Attorney General's Office. The Advisories are designed to give information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws - our "Sunshine Laws."

    Citizens who have inquiries or complaints may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office - toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)

    Prepared by the Iowa Attorney General's Office, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.

    On the Web: . Sunshine Advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens.

    Local officials should obtain legal advice from their legal counsel, such as the city or county attorney.