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Public Records
Public Records

Generally, all ODA records are public unless they are exempt from disclosure under Ohio law. As a result, we organize and maintain our public records in such a way that they can be made available for inspection and copying. ODA’s legal office is responsible for processing all public records requests received by ODA's various divisions and programs. ODA’s public records request form is a helpful tool to guide you in including the most important information in your request. While you are not required to use the form, it helps ODA to thoroughly and quickly respond to your request. All public records are subject to legal review and redaction, when necessary, before a response can be provided. Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 149.43(B)(1), ODA will respond to your public records request within a reasonable period of time.

 

Public Records Policy

Mission Statement. It is the policy of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) that openness leads to a better informed citizenry, which leads to better government and better public policy. Consistent with the premise that government at all levels exists first and foremost to serve the interests of the people, it is the mission and intent of ODA to at all times fully comply with and abide by the spirit of Ohio’s Public Records Act.

Public Records Defined. All records kept by ODA are public unless they are exempt from disclosure under Ohio law. All public records must be organized and maintained in such a way that they can be made available for inspection and copying after appropriate legal review. ODA, in accordance with the Public Records Act (Section 149.43 of the Ohio Revised Code), defines a “public record” as including the following:

A document in any format such as paper or electronic (including but not limited to business e-mail) –that is created, received by, or comes under the jurisdiction of ODA which documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of ODA.

Response Timeframe. Public records are to be available for inspection during regular business hours, with the exception of holidays.  ODA strongly encourages anyone who desires to inspect records in person to call and make an appointment so that adequate preparations can be made to accommodate the requester’s visit. Copies of public records must be made available within a reasonable period of time. “Prompt” and “reasonable” take into account the order in which public records are received ODA, the volume of records requested, including the time and resources needed to make them available; the proximity of the location where the records are stored; and the necessity for legal review of the records requested.

It is the goal of ODA that all requests for public records be acknowledged in writing promptly and responded to within a reasonable period of time.

Evaluating the Request. Although no specific language is required to make a request for public records, the requester must at least identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow ODA to identify, retrieve, and review the records. If a request is not clear what records are being sought, ODA may contact the requester for clarification and assist the requester in revising the request by informing the requester of the manner in which ODA maintains its public records.

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 record. It is ODA’s general policy that this information is not to be requested. However, a discussion about the requester’s purposes or interest  in  seeking  certain information can aid ODA in locating and producing the desired records more efficiently. Accordingly, while the requester does not have to put a records request in writing, a written request enables ODA to identify responsive records with greater accuracy and creates a record of the request to ensure a reasonable response time.

Although the requester may designate the format in which documents are to be placed for inspection, ODA is not required to put the requested documents into a format that is not within the ordinary scope of its normal record-keeping function or normal capacity. Additionally, ODA is not required to create records that otherwise did not exist, or to create, for example, a computer program simply in order to respond to a public records request.

ODA’s Legal Division has an affirmative duty to review all public records requests.

Electronic Mail. Electronic mail (“e-mail”) is simply one format for the creation and  storage  of  a document. Documents in electronic-mail format are records as defined by the Ohio Revised Code when their content relates to the business of ODA. It is, therefore, content, rather than the format that defines whether a document is a public record. E-mail documents are treated in the same manner as records in other formats.

Denial or Redaction of Records.  Ohio Public Records Law requires a requester to describe what he or she is seeking “specifically and particularly” in order for ODA to identify responsive records based on the manner in which the records are ordinarily maintained. ODA may deny a request if it is ambiguous or overly broad. If a denial is made, ODA must provide the requester an opportunity to revise the request by informing the requester of how ODA ordinarily maintains and accesses records.

Any denial of a public records request must include an explanation, including legal authority.    If portions of a record are public and portions are exempt, the exempt portions must be redacted and the rest released. When making public records available for public inspection or copying, ODA shall notify the requester of any redaction or make the redaction plainly visible. If there are redactions, each redaction must be accompanied by a supporting explanation, including legal authority for its exclusion as a public record.

Copying and Mailing Costs for Public Records. Those seeking public records may be charged only the actual cost of making the copies and not for labor. The cost for making the copies is as follows:

a) Paper Copies. The charge for paper copies is 5 cents ($.05) per page. Two-sided photocopies shall be charged at the rate of 10 cents ($.10) per page. There will be no charge for requests of 100 pages or less.

b) Compact Disc. The charge for downloaded computer files to a compact disc is 1 dollar ($1.00) per disc.

c) Electronic Transmittal of Records. There is no charge for documents that are sent via electronic mail or fax.

d) Mailing Costs. Requesters may ask that documents be mailed to them. They will be charged the actual cost of the postage.

A requester may be required to pay in advance for costs involved in providing the copies at the sole discretion of ODA. Additionally, ODA may choose to waive any and all costs associated with compliance with a public records request. Any waiver of costs should not be construed to waive, and does not in fact waive any right to the future assertion of ODA to request and collect actual costs of compliance with a public records request.

ODA’s records are subject to records retention schedules. ODA’s current schedules are available at the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) website, http://apps.das.ohio.gov/rims/General/General.asp, which is readily available to the public as required by
§149.43(B) (2), Ohio Revised Code.

7/2015 - Initial Policy Issued

Record Retention

Ohio law permits ODA to destroy records pursuant to properly approved records retention schedules. Ohio Revised Code 149.43(E)(1) also requires all public offices to maintain a copy of all current records retention schedules at a location readily available to the public. When public records are properly disposed of in accordance with a records-retention policy, they are no longer in the possession of ODA and therefore cannot be provided pursuant to a request.

ODA’s record retention schedules are maintained on the Ohio Department of Administrative Services RIMS website located at http://apps.das.ohio.gov/rims/SelectMenu/Selection.asp. To obtain Agriculture specific retention schedules you will need to indicate AGR (for “agriculture”) and the “schedule” for the specific division you are searching for and then the retention schedules will appear for that particular division of ODA.

How to Make a Good Request

Though records maintained by ODA are generally subject to public records requests, Ohio law does establish parameters for requests and exceptions for records that are exempt from public records requests.

Examples of Good Requests and Bad Requests

Below please find examples of requests ODA can easily process, and those that lack important information necessary to processing a request.

Good Request: Bad Request:
Inspection reports for Facility A for years X, Y and Z. Dairy inspection reports
A list of current apprentice auctioneers. Any and all information regarding apprentice auctioneers.
Any email correspondence from Inspector Y to Owner X from April 1, 2017 to April 1,2018 regarding Food Establishment X.

Any and all correspondence regarding Food Establishment X.

How do I obtain all information regarding a certain facility, topic, company, etc.?

Requests for information are not requests for records. Similarly, requests for “all records” do not identify specific records. A good request identifies particular documents. If you don’t know what documents to ask for,  contact the division of access the record retention schedule for the division to ascertain what types of documents are maintained by the division. Generally, many ODA Divisions maintain records regarding licensure, inspections, complaints, investigations, and violations.

What if I want information in a certain format?

If the Department maintains the information in a certain format (e.g., Word, Excel, etc.), that format can be provided to you. However, if ODA does not maintain information in a particular format, or if you have requested a record a database is not capable of compiling, ODA is under no duty to create the record for you. Additionally, if you want information that is spread throughout several documents, you will have to request those documents and compile the information.

Do I have to include a particular date?

Because many files are maintained by date, including a particular date or date range is imperative. Failure to delineate any specific date range may result in your request being denied for being overly broad.

How can I submit  a request?

While it is best to submit the public records request form (link) to ensure relevant details are included with your request, it is not required. The public records request form, or a writing detailing your request, can be submitted:

  •  Via email to AGRpublicrecords@agri.ohio.gov
  •  In writing to 8995 E. Main Street, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068, ATTN: Office of Chief Legal Counsel
  •  Via fax to (614) 995-4585

Alternatively, you are welcome to submit your request over the phone at (614) 728-6430. However, we encourage you to place your request in writing so that we can ensure that you receive the specific records you are requesting.

Can I make a request anonymously?

You may request records anonymously. However, some method of contact must be made available so that ODA can notify you when your records are available.

What types of records do you maintain?

ODA maintains a wide variety of records. The most commonly requested records include lists of licensees or permitees, license or permit applications, inspection reports, violations, and complaints. To review the types of records maintained specifically by Division, you can access the Department’s record retention schedules at http://apps.das.ohio.gov/rims/SelectMenu/Selection.asp. To obtain Agriculture specific retention policies you will need to indicate AGR (for “agriculture”) and the “schedule” for the specific division you are searching for and then the retention schedules will appear for that particular division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

When can I expect to receive my records?

ORC 149.43 requires ODA to respond to your public records request within a reasonable period of time. A reasonable period of time depends upon the nature and volume of the documents responsive to your request. If you need records by a certain date, be sure to include that in your request. ODA cannot guarantee that it can accommodate your request to receive documents by a specific date, but it is helpful information to have in processing your request.

How will I receive my records?

When possible, ODA will electronically transmit records via email. In instances in which the documents are too voluminous to be emailed, a disc containing the documents will be mailed.

Do I have to pay for my records?

ODA may charges costs for copies and/or for delivery or transmission of your records. Further, ODA may requires that payment of both be made in advance. Prior to completion of your request, ODA will contact you if it intends to charge you for your request.

Can I obtain all emails about a specific topic?

You cannot obtain all emails about a specific topic because ODA maintains emails by sender and/or receiver, rather than by topic. Therefore, if you wish to obtain emails or other correspondence, you must identify the sender, receiver, and a relevant date range. Additionally, identifying a particular topic or keywords will all narrow down the emails responsive to your request.

Are there any records I can’t obtain?

While the Public Records Act presumes and favors public access to government records, Ohio and federal laws provide limited exemptions to protect certain records from mandatory release. For example, pursuant to ORC 149.43,  medical records, trial preparation records, law enforcement investigatory records,  and personal information (such as social security numbers) do not constitute public records, and as such, are not subject to public records requests. Furthermore, Ohio law permits ODA to redact information regarding minors, security information, attorney-client privileged material, and intellectual property.

How can I expedite my request?

Submitting a detailed request, submitting a request using the Public Records Request form, and emailing the completed public records request form are the best methods for expediting responses.