The purpose of this policy is to provide guidance to the Mental Health and Recovery Board serving Belmont, Harrison, and Monroe Counties (MHR Board) staff in complying with the Ohio Public Records Act and Section 149.43, Ohio Revised Code, which provides prompt inspection of public records and upon request, copies of public records within a reasonable amount of time.
The MHR Board recognizes that most records generated by and for the operation of the Board are public documents and include, but are not limited to, the following: Board minutes, Executive Director reports, receipts, expenditures, salaries, position descriptions, safety and health materials, contracts and policy statements. These public records are open to public review.
- A “record” is defined to include the following: A document in any format—paper, electronic (including, but not limited to, business e-mail) or another format—that is created, received by, or comes under the jurisdiction of the MHR Board that documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.
- A “public record” is a record that is being kept by the MHR Board office at the time a public records request is made, subject to exemptions from disclosure under Ohio or federal law. All public records must be organized and maintained in such a way that they can be made available for inspection and copying.
- Requester means the person or entity making the request for a public record from the MHR Board office.
- Some exceptions to the public records disclosure request include:
1. Any provision of Ohio or Federal law that protects records from the public.
2. Medical records related to a consumer’s medical condition generated and maintained in the process of medical treatment.
3. Trial preparation records that contain information that was specifically compiled in reasonable anticipation of, or in defense of, litigation. Trial preparation records are not subject to public disclosure until the case and any appeals have concluded.
4. Demographic information including address, social security number, phone number, emergency phone numbers, and similar information for the spouse, former spouse and children.
- Receiving a request: Requests to review public records can be made to any Board staff member who shall immediately forward it to the Executive Director. In the absence of the Executive Director for an extended period that would not allow timely response to the requester, the request shall be forwarded to the MHR Board’s Fiscal Officer.
1. If the requested documents are easily accessed and compiled, the requester can inspect the records immediately. If the requested records are extensive, the Executive Director will respond to the request promptly and reasonably, which is determined by the nature of the request. “Prompt” and “reasonably” takes into account the volume of records requested; the proximity of the location where the records are stored and the necessity for any legal review of the records requested. On-site review of public records is made in the presence of the Executive Director or designee during normal business hours.
2. It is the goal of the MHR Board that all requests for public records should be acknowledged in writing, or if feasible, satisfied within three (3) business days following the office’s receipt of the request.
- Handling Requests: No specific language is required to make a request for public records. However, the requester must at least identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow the office to identify, retrieve, and review the records.
1. The requester does not have to put a records request in writing and does not have to provide his or her identity, or the intended use of the requested public record(s). It is the general policy of the MHR Board that this information is not requested.
2. The law does permit the MHR Board to ask for a written request, the requester’s identity, and/or the intended use of the information requested, but only if a written request or disclosure of identity or intended use would benefit the requester by enhancing the office’s ability to identify, locate, or deliver the public records that have been requested. The requester may decline to review the requester’s identity or intended use.
- Reviewing the Public Records Request: In processing the request, the designated staff person handling the request will document the date of the request, the information requested, the manner in which the data was delivered, and the date the request was fulfilled. This log will be kept by the designated public records custodian.
1. Upon receipt of the request for public records, the Executive Director or other appropriate personnel shall evaluate the request to determine whether the request is for a public record kept by the MHR Board office; whether the request is for a “public record” that is exempt from disclosure as enumerated by federal or state law; whether any redactions must be made to the public records; whether the request is ambiguous or overly broad; whether the request should be denied; and the reasonable amount of time it will take to promptly prepare and make available or permit inspection of the record during regular business hours.
2. The MHR Board office has no obligation to create new records or perform a search or research for information in the office’s records. An electronic record is deemed to exist so long as a computer is already programmed to produce the record through the office’s standard use of sorting, filtering, or querying features.
3. Records in the form of e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging, including those sent and received via a hand-held communication device, is to be treated in the same fashion as records in other formats such as paper. Public record content transmitted to and from private accounts or personal devices is subject to disclosure. All employees are required to retain their e-mail records and other electronic records in accordance with applicable records retention schedules.
4. In processing a request for inspection of a public record, the public records custodian may accompany the requester during inspection to make certain original records are not taken or altered.
- Denial and redaction of records: If the requester makes an ambiguous or overly broad request, or has difficulty in making a request such that the office cannot reasonably identify what public records are being requested, the request may be denied, but the office must then provide the requester an opportunity to revise the request for information requested for the manner in which records are maintained and accessed by the office.
1. If the office withholds, redacts, or otherwise denies requested records, it must provide an explanation, including legal authority, for the denial. If the initial request was made in writing, then explanation must also be in writing.
2. If portions of a record are public and portions are exempt, the exempt portions may be redacted, and the rest released. When making public records available for public inspection or copying, the office shall notify the requester of any redaction or make the redaction plainly visible.
3. The public records custodian will notify any MHR Board contract service provider that is affected by a public records request made to the MHR Board.
- Copying and Mailing Costs: Copies of public records may be requested and will be copied by the Board at a cost to the requester for 5 cents per page. The charge for downloaded electronic files to a compact disc is $1.00 per disc. The requester may choose whether to have the record duplicated upon paper, upon the same medium on which the public record is kept, or upon any other medium on which the office determines the record can reasonably be duplicated as an integral part of the office’s normal operations.
1. The Board may not charge for employee time in gathering or reviewing the records.
2. Full payment of copying and delivery costs must be received before copies are given to the requester.
3. If the requester asks that documents be delivered to them, he or she may be charged the actual cost of postage and mailing supplies or other actual costs of delivery. There will be no charge for e-mailed documents.
- The MHR Board and staff recognize the legal and non-legal consequences of failure to properly respond to a public records request.