University of Georgia Open Records

July 10, 2011

Updated: October 25, 2012

The University of Georgia Public Affairs Division is responsible for administering the University's compliance with the Georgia Open Records Act. This law places important responsibilities on you as a University administrator or staff member. Please familiarize yourself with this material. Most of all be sure to notify Public Affairs (706-542-8090) immediately when you receive a request for any record held by your office.

We in Public Affairs seek to make the University's open records compliance procedures user-friendly, non-adversarial, and open. The laws of Georgia make virtually every record held by UGA, with only a few specific exceptions, accessible to any citizen who requests to see it. Placing unnecessary barriers between the people and the records to which the law entitles them access serves no positive purpose for the institution. Therefore, it is the University's goal to comply with requests for records under the provisions of the Open Records Act. The procedures outlined here will help you and us determine in a timely way whether the records exist and whether they fall under the Act, and to make them quickly accessible to the requestor.

Please call the UGA Public Affairs Division (706-542-8090) immediately whenever an issue arises regarding the application of the Georgia Open Records Act.

Procedure for handling open records requests

Any University employee receiving a request for records held under his/her individual or departmental responsibility should immediately notify the Open Records Manager in the UGA Public Affairs Division, 706-542-8090. A request may be verbal—it is not necessary that a request be in writing — although any requestor may submit a written request under the law if they so desire.

We will contact the requestor directly to determine what they want to know, and will work with them to determine which records will best provide them that information. We then will contact the administrator responsible for those records to determine whether they exist, how voluminous they might be, and how much time might be required to search and assemble them. If the answer is simple and the records minimal, we will try to respond immediately. In more complicated requests, and within three business days of the original request as required by law, the requestor will be notified of the existence of records, an estimate of the cost of searching, assembling and copying, and asked whether they care to proceed. If their answer is affirmative, the department will be notified to gather the records and provide them to the Open Records Manager in Public Affairs as promptly as possible for delivery to the requestor.

Open record request

A request can be made by contacting Mitch Clayton, Open Records Manager in Public Affairs at 706-542-8090. However, most requests are received by e-mail at mitchc@uga.edu. Requests can also be sent by fax (706-542-9492) or by mail:

UGA Public Affairs Division
286 Oconee St. Suite 200N
Athens, GA 30602
(706) 542-8090

A request form is provided for your convenience: Open_Records_Request_Form.pdf

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Georgia Open Records Act?
It is a state law requiring that public records be open and available for inspection by any member of the public.

What is a public record?
Public records include virtually all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, or similar material prepared, maintained or received in the course of the operation of a public office or agency. Records held by private persons for a state agency and records held away from the work site all are subject to the law.

Does the Open Records Act apply to the University of Georgia?
Yes. The University is a public agency; therefore it is subject to the act.

Who may make an open records request?
Any member of the public may request an inspection of any public record. It is not necessary for the requestor to show particular need or interest in the matters covered by the record in order to gain access.

How can I make an Open Records Request?
A request can be made by contacting Mitch Clayton, Open Records Manager in Public Affairs at 706-542-8090. However, most requests are received by e-mail at mitchc@uga.edu. Requests can also be sent by fax (706-542-9492) or by mail:

Public Affairs Division
286 Oconee St. Suite 200N
Athens, GA 30602
(706) 542-8090

A request form is provided for your convenience: Open_Records_Request_Form.pdf

What is the purpose of the Open Records Act?
The purpose is not only to encourage public access to certain information, but to maintain the public's confidence in government by discouraging secrecy and closed records. The act allows the public to evaluate the functioning of its institutions.

What obligation does the Open Records Act place on the University of Georgia?
The University must provide access to existing public records in its custody or under its control within three business days, including those the University created and those it has received in the course of its operation. We are not required to create a record which does not exist at the time of the request. We are not required to compile requested information into a single document.

Are there records which may be exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act?
There are exemptions, but they are limited and have been interpreted very narrowly by the courts. The law presumes all records are open and places the burden on the University to demonstrate that any requested materials are exempt. If a public record contains both exempt and non-exempt material, the exempt portion must be removed and the remaining non-exempt material disclosed. The exemptions most relevant to UGA are:

  • medical and veterinary records and other materials involving matters of personal privacy;
  • records relating to pending investigations;
  • records required by the federal government to be kept confidential, such as student educational records;
  • trade secrets and certain information of a proprietary nature;
  • certain research data, records, or information that has not been published, patented, or otherwise publicly disseminated;
  • personal and financial information of donors
  • confidential evaluations submitted to a public agency in connection with the hiring of a public employee.

Are student evaluations of academic courses subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. Since 1988, it has been the opinion of the state Attorney General that such documents are open.

Are personnel files subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. Any exempt material in personnel files, such as social security numbers, medical information, home address and telephone number, or information relating to the designation of beneficiaries, may be redacted.

Are performance evaluations subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes. There is no exemption for performance evaluations.

Are e-mails I send and receive subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act?
Yes, e-mails are open records, whether or not the subject matter is business-related, if one or more of the following criteria are met:

  • they involve state business
  • they are sent over a UGA account (even if on a privately-owned computer from home)
  • they are sent on or through UGA-owned equipment, no matter where it is located.

Except under very limited exceptions, such e-mails are subject to disclosure if requested under the Georgia Open Records Act.

As a University employee, what is my responsibility to preserve public records?
Although other federal and state laws require the University to maintain certain records for a period of years, no particular records are required to be maintained by the Georgia Open Records Act until they have been requested. Once they are the subject of a request, records may not be erased, shredded, or otherwise disposed of under penalty of law.

Must the University notify employees named in records being disclosed?
While there is no such requirement in the law, the University’s policy is to notify employees whose performance evaluations or personnel files have been requested and are being released under compliance of the Open Records Act.

What if I have a question about whether the records requested from me fall under the law?
Whenever you receive a request, you should immediately contact the Open Records Manager in Public Affairs at 706-542-8090. We will evaluate the request for applicability under the law. If there are legal questions, we will consult with the Office of Legal Affairs for advice.

Can the University charge requestors for the cost of copies and staff time used in the search?
The law allows a copying fee not more than 25 cents per page and a charge for staff time used in the search. This fee is based on the pay rate of the lowest-paid employee qualified to search and assemble the documents.

How critical is the time element in complying with the Open Records Act?
It is very critical that any unit receiving a request for records immediately notify the Public Affairs Division. The three-day timeframe for the University to comply under the law starts running when it arrives in our office. It is the responsibility of department heads to assure there is no delay in this notification to the Office of Public Affairs, which is responsible for compliance under University policy.

News Service

Director
Cynthia Hoke

706 / 542-8083
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Stephanie Schupska

706 / 542-6927
Public Relations Coordinator
Sara Freeland

706 / 542-8077

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Director
Steve Bell

706 / 542-8089
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Pete Konenkamp

706 / 542-8080
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Rick O‘Quinn

706 / 542-8085