What records should I request?

Experts say auditors must be sure that the requested records are public records. 

The point of the audit is not to find out what records are public — it is to see how well public agencies comply with open-records laws and statutes.

Charles Davis, director of the Freedom of Information Center, said auditors should request “basic governance” documents. But the exact documents auditors should request depend on the type of audit they want to do. 

“Consult with an FOI expert or a media attorney in your community or in your state and pre-check the documents” because each state has a different open-records law, he said.No matter the records requested, be prepared to be treated with suspicion, said Glen Bleske, associate professor at Chico State University, who had a class audit its community.

Experts suggest the following records as good choices:

• Budget documents — Ask for the budget of a department or the central administration or the school as a whole. 

“You ought to be able to see where your money is going,” Davis said. “And it ought to be, in most states, a public record.”

• Meeting minutes — Almost all minutes from meetings of public bodies are open records.

• Salaries of public employees — Bleske said that while salaries are public records at many public agencies, they are one of the most difficult public records to get.

• College campus police incident reports — The Clery Act, a federal campus crime law, requires all campus police departments to keep an open log of crimes committed on campus. These records fall under the federal law, and they may be subject to state open-records laws, as well. 

“You would be amazed at how difficult that is to get at campuses around the country,” Davis said.

Fall 2004, open records, reports