The Arkansas Freedom of Information HANDBOOK, published by the Arkansas Governor’s Office, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, the Arkansas Press Association and several media related agencies serves as an excellent source for factual information concerning the filing of FOIA requests to governmental agencies and to nonprofit entities which receive local, county and/or State taxpayer funds. The HANDBOOK also contains numerous suggestions and other related comments relating to the filing of FOIA requests and the convening of meetings of a public nature. The comments noted below are designed to assist those individuals who have the desire to support openness and transparency when requesting copies of documents or attending, and participating in, any type of public meeting:
1. Before filing an FOIA request, the contents of The Arkansas Freedom of Information HANDBOOK, latest edition, should be thoroughly reviewed. Copies of the HANDBOOK may be obtained from the Governor’s Office or from the Office of the State Attorney General. They may also be obtained from one of the five media related agencies listed at the bottom of the front cover of the HANDBOOK or downloaded here.
2. A person making an FOIA request is under no obligation to divulge his or her reason for filing the request even when requested to do so.
3. An FOIA request may be made to the “custodian of records” via a personal telephone call, text message, email message, personal face-to-face conversation, fax message, telegram or via the US Postal Service.
4. FOIA requests should be directed, by name, to the individual who legally serves as the “custodian of records”. That person is the individual who has ultimate administrative control of the records of a governmental agency or eligible nonprofit entity. In a school district, that individual is the superintendent. The mayor holds that position within a city. The “custodian of records” relating to county records is the county judge. FOIA requests should not be submitted to anyone other than that individual who has ultimate administrative control!
5. To better ensure the initial establishment of a paper trail concerning an FOIA request, it is recommended that such requests be submitted via a certified letter to the “custodian of records”. The request should include the certified letter number noted one space immediately below the name and address of the “custodian of records”.
6. When making an FOIA request, be very specific as to the documentations/information being sought. Do not make such requests in paragraphical form but rather list, by number, each request utilizing concise, specific language. Make such requests in a manner as to minimize, and/or eliminate, any confusion as to what is being requested.
7. It is preferable to begin each FOIA request as follows: “As per the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of 1967, as amended, please provide me with the following documentation/information.”
8. After an FOIA request has been filed, the requester should never respond to remarks which may be made by an individual and/or an attorney who identifies himself or herself as acting on behalf of the “custodian of records” from whom documents/information are being sought.
9. If you have been denied an FOIA request by the “custodian of records” of an agency, and that request was related to personnel records, contact the Office of the Attorney General immediately and ask that your request, and the response you received, be reviewed by the Attorney General.
10. Any person who negligently violates any provision of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act shall be guilty of a Class “C” misdemeanor.
11. Those making FOIA requests may be asked to complete a form before the requests are granted. The requesters are notrequired to by law to complete such a form.
12. The time and place of each regularly scheduled governmental meeting must be provided to anyone requesting such information.
13. The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act allows that specific documentation/information be shielded from FOIA requests by Arkansas citizens.
14. A “custodian of records” is not required to compile information nor to create a record in response to an FOIA request.
15. An Arkansas citizen may make a request to the “custodian of records” to inspect, copy and/or receive copies of public records.
16. When desiring information concerning the interpretation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, as established by case law or by the Attorney General’s Office, contact the Opinions Section of the AG’s Office and request a copy of any related AG opinions if such are on file by that Office.
17. Citizens are allowed to audio tape and/or video tape a public meeting if such action does not serve to disrupt that meeting.
18. A public governing body may vote in secret as long as ballots contain the respective voters’ signatures and are made available for citizen inspection.
19. When a public body is meeting in executive session, all discussions in that executive session must be related to the legal purpose for which the session was approved by the public body.
20. Any decision made in an executive session must be ratified in an open session.
21. The purpose of the FOIA is to protect the public’s right to documentation/information, not to specify what action shall be taken by a governmental body.
22. A governmental body is permitted to convene into an executive session for the following purposes only: considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of a public officer or employee.
23. The “custodian of records” may waive the fee for copying records if he or she determines that the records have been requested primarily for noncommercial purposes and that the waiver is in the public’s interest.
24. The “custodian of records” is required to provide copies of public records if he or she has the necessary duplicating equipment.
25. Individuals making FOIA requests should thoroughlydocument the requests being made. Any corresponding communication between the requesters and anyone else-- including the responses to the requests as provided by the “custodian of records”--should be documented.
26. The “custodian of records” of a governmental agency and of an eligible nonprofit entity is allowed 3 working days to respond to an FOIA records request.
27. If the “custodian of records” cannot respond to an FOIA request in 3 working days, he or she must notify the requester of such and tell the requester when he or she can reasonably be expected to receive the answer to that FOIA request.