Requesting records from city government

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The easiest thing to do is call the mayor's office, unless your city uses a city manager in which case you'd try that office first.

Say that you'd like to file an open records request and you want to know who at the city handles these matters.

In some cities, 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 city 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. This person might be the City Manager or the City Clerk or someone else altogether. Your request will get faster attention if it goes to a responsible party, which is why it's worth your while to call ahead.

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 city'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 mayor's chief of staff or the city manager'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 city's website. A polite request that the city 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 city's common council or city council to suggest this, if the mayor or city manager ignores you. Also consider writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper proposing this customer-friendly addition to the city's website.

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