What is and isn't an 'open record'

Terry Richards, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·2 min read

Mar. 14—VALDOSTA — Some people have interesting ideas about what constitutes a "public record" — such as songs.

Valdosta State University was once sued in federal court by a plaintiff claiming the university ignored his state Open Records Act requests; he wanted every song file in the lineup at VSU's student radio station, WVVS, sent to him — all 4,800 of them, according to court documents.

The plaintiff, by the way, was serving life plus 47 years for murder at Valdosta State Prison.

Public records are defined by state law as documents, letters, maps, books, tapes, photos, emails, data and electronic files.

There are exceptions — things the public can't get its hands on, including:

—Investigative files of an open police investigation that are exempt. Closed investigative files are open and initial incident reports are always open.

—Personal information on publicly held documents such as birthdate, Social Security, phone numbers are subject to redaction. Similarly, personal files on public employees are not publicly available.

—Economic development records while negotiations are pending are exempt from disclosure.

—Sports recruiting records by colleges and universities are exempt for 90 days from the time of the initial request.

—University System of Georgia job applications are exempt.

—Grand jury records are exempt.

—Real estate appraisals of public property prior to purchase are exempt.

State law does not require the creation of new reports, meaning the agency cannot be required to generate documents that do not exist simply because someone requests the information.

Still, the vast majority of documents and electronic files held by local governments are open, public records and should be made available to the public in an efficient and timely manner in compliance with the state's Open Records Act.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.