Chiefs of Police, 9-23-09
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT: ARKANSANS' RIGHT TO KNOW
LITTLE ROCK -- On Feb. 14, 1967, Arkansas adopted one of the strongest and most comprehensive Freedom of Information Acts in the nation. The intent of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is to provide access to information in an open and public government, one of the hallmarks of a democratic society.
The FOIA gives Arkansas consumers an opportunity to look at a broad array of information at every level of government and to observe the actions of government leaders. It also promotes and protects the right of individuals to attend the meetings of policy-making, tax-supported bodies. Today, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel released this consumer alert concerning general consumer questions about the Act and how it affects Arkansans.
"The FOIA is the people's law, and as the people's lawyer, I feel that it is vital for us to be well informed about the working of our government," McDaniel said.
McDaniel provided the following question and answer series for educational and informative purposes.
• Does an FOIA request have to be in writing? No. You can also make FOIA requests by phone or in person. But it is generally best to put it in writing.
• How long does the custodian have to respond to the request? If the record is in active use or storage, and the FOIA requires the documents be disclosed, then the custodian has three working days to provide the records. Otherwise, the FOIA requires the custodian to provide the records "immediately." In practice, however, most records are in active use or storage. So you should generally expect to be able to obtain the records in three working days.
• Is the custodian required to make copies? In general, yes. Assuming the requester asked for copies, and assuming the requested records must be disclosed, custodians must make copies if they have "the necessary duplicating equipment." Most custodians have photocopiers, which is usually all that is needed.
• How much can custodians charge for copies? The FOIA only allows custodians to charge the "actual costs of reproduction." In other words, the custodian cannot charge more than it actually costs to make the copies. While, the "actual costs" can include the mailing expenses, the custodian cannot include the cost of personnel time associated with responding to the request. If the custodian charges, however, it must provide a list itemizing each charge. Finally, if the estimated charges exceed $25, the custodian can require the requester to pay the estimated charges in advance.
For further assistance, please contact Aaron Sadler at the Attorney General's Office at (501) 682-0517, or visit www.arkansasag.gov (go to the Opinions Division, FOIA link).