So you want a copy of a public record from your local municipality, school district and/or other agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? You are entitled to those records that qualify as “public records” under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law if you can identify it with reasonable specificity and request the same in writing on the appropriate form.
First and foremost, you need to know the agency that possesses the public record you are seeking. Once you confirm the agency that possesses the record, you will need to fill out the appropriate Right to Know request form. The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records maintains acceptable forms on its website and the agency you will be submitting your request to will also likely have forms on its website for you to access. You can also go directly to the agency’s office to request a copy of a written Right to Know request form to fill out.
You will need to identify the record you are requesting with the requisite specificity so that the agency can ascertain which record you are requesting. Your request cannot be vague and must specifically identify the actual record you are requesting. Requests that are not specific enough will likely be denied for the lack of specificity.
The Right to Know Law sets forth specific exemptions for records that are not considered “public.” If the record you are requesting falls under one of the exemptions, it will likely be denied by the agency. The Law also states that certain privileged documents are not “public” and therefore not subject to public access. You can find a complete listing of the exemptions and privileges on the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records website which provides a complete written copy of the Law.
What is important to note is that the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law specifically states that if a record exists in the possession or control of the agency, and that record is a “public record” and not exempt and/or privileged, the record is available for public review and access. However, the agency is not required to create a record that does not exist in response to a request. Therefore a request for “information” rather than for a “record” is not subject to the Right to Know Law.
Your first point of contact to move forward with a Right to Know request will be the agency’s appointed Right to Know Officer who will be reviewing and responding to your request.
If you have any questions related to the above, please contact Patrick M. Armstrong, Esquire, an associate at Grim, Biehn & Thatcher, at 215.257.6811.