Requesting records from county government

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The easiest thing to do is call the county executive office or county clerk's office. Say that you'd like to file an open records request and you want to know who at the county handles these matters. You won't be the first person who has called and asked.

In larger counties, the responsibility for open records compliance may be delegated to specific departments. The person who answers the phone may be able to give you helpful guidance. However, in order to give you helpful guidance, he or she may ask you what kind of records you want. You're not obligated to provide that information at this point--but it could be the best way to quickly find out who you need to be working with.

It's certainly easier for you if the county has one person or department in charge of all open records requests, because that person can then send your request along to the relevant department when he or she receives it. Usually this person is the County Clerk. However, he or she may pass your request along to a Deputy County Clerk or a Records Custodian (or a lawyer!), but it is still generally the County Clerk who is responsible for ensuring that the public has access to county documents.

Check that you have the correct spelling of the person's name. Then, ask what address you should use.

If you prefer to use email, you can also try searching the county's website to see if they list an open records compliance officer. If they don't, you can try searching on the website for the county clerk's name and email address. If you find it, just send that person a quick email asking for the procedure for filing an open records request.

Consider noting in your email that you tried unsuccessfully to find this information on the county's website. A polite request that the county update its website to make it easier for citizens to ask for public records will help those who come after you. We also encourage you to write to the members of your county's board of supervisors or county commission to suggest this, if the county clerk or executive ignores your polite request.

Sunshine Review has developed a number of projects in which they rate counties for accessibility of information on the county website. To search for your district or contribute to the project, please see: Find Your County.