Freedom of Access Act Request

What is a public record?

The FOAA defines "public record" as "any written, printed or graphic matter or any mechanical or electronic data compilation from which information can be obtained, directly or after translation into a form susceptible of visual or aural comprehension, that is in the possession or custody of an agency or public official of this State or any of its political subdivisions, or is in the possession or custody of an association, the membership of which is composed exclusively of one or more of any of these entities, and has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business or contains information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business". A number of exceptions are specified. (See the discussion of exemptions below.) 1 M.R.S. § 402(3)

How do I make a Freedom of Access Act request for a public record?

To request access to City records, you should start by determining which City department is likely to maintain those records, contact that department, and make your request. There are no required forms that must be completed, and the request may be made either verbally or in writing. If you are unsure of whom to contact, have questions about records access, or are seeking a large number of documents or documents from more than one department, you may contact the City’s Freedom of Access Coordinator, Erika Benson, Executive Assistant to the City Manager at (207)443-8330. 

Is there a form that must be used to make a Freedom of Access Act request?

No. There are no required forms.

Does my Freedom of Access Act request have to be in writing?

No. The FOAA does not require that requests for public records be in writing. However, most governmental bodies and agencies ask individuals to submit requests in writing in order to maintain a record of when the request was received and what records were specifically requested.

What should I say in my request?

In order for the governmental body, agency or official to promptly respond to your request, you should be as specific as possible when describing the records you are seeking. If a particular document is required, it should be identified precisely-preferably by author, date and title. However, a request does not have to be that specific. If you cannot identify a specific record, you should clearly explain the type of records you are seeking, from what timeframe and what subject the records should contain. 

Does the City have to acknowledge receipt of my request?

Yes. The City will acknowledge receipt of a request within a reasonable period of time. 

Can the City ask me for clarification concerning my request?

Yes. The City may request clarification concerning which public record or public records are being requested. 

Does the City have to estimate how long it will take to respond to my request?

Yes. The City must provide a good faith, nonbinding estimate of how long it will take to comply with the request. The agency or official shall make a good faith effort to fully respond within the estimated time. 

When does the City have to make the records available?

The records must be made available "within a reasonable period of time" after the request was made. The City can schedule the time for your inspection, conversion and copying of the records during the regular business hours of the City, and at a time that will not delay or inconvenience the regular activities of the City. 

Does the City have to produce records within 5 days of my request?

No. The records that are responsive to a request must be made available "within a reasonable period of time" after the request was made. The City must respond in writing within 5 working days only if your request is denied in whole or in part. 

Do I have to go to the City to inspect the records or can I ask the City to mail me the records?

A person may inspect or copy any public record in the office of the City during reasonable office hours. The City shall mail the copy upon request. The City may charge a reasonable fee to cover the cost of making the copies for you, as well as actual mailing costs.

When may the City refuse to release the records I request?

The FOAA provides that certain categories of documents are not public records. Included among these are records that have been designated confidential by statute, documents subject to a recognized legal privilege such as the attorney-client privilege or the work-product privilege, records describing security plans or procedures designed to prevent acts of terrorism, medical records, juvenile records, and the personal contact information of public employees contained within records. 

For a list of records or categories of records deemed by statute to be confidential or otherwise not a public record, see the Statutory Exceptions List. While this listing may not be totally complete, it contains the vast majority of exceptions to the FOAA.

Can I ask that public reports or other documents be created, summarized or put in a particular format for me?

No. A public officer or agency is not required to prepare reports, summaries, or compilations not in existence on the date of your request. 

I asked a public official a question about a record, but he/she didn't answer. Is he/she required to answer my question?

No. A public officer or agency is not required to explain or answer questions about public records. The FOAA only requires officials and agencies to make public records available for inspection and copying.

Can an agency charge for public records?

There is no initial fee for submitting a request, and the City cannot charge an individual to inspect records unless the public record cannot be inspected without being compiled or converted. However, the City can charge a reasonable fee for copying records. The City may also charge fees for the time spent searching for, retrieving, compiling, or redacting confidential information from the requested records.

Maine’s law authorizes the City to charge $15 per hour after the first hour of staff time per request. Where conversion of a record is necessary, the agency or official may also charge a fee to cover the actual cost of conversion. The City must prepare an estimate of the time and cost required to complete a request, and if the estimate is greater than $30, the City must notify the requester before proceeding. The City may request payment of the costs in advance if the estimated cost exceeds $100 or if the requester has previously failed to pay a fee. 

Is the City required under the Freedom of Access Act to honor a "standing request" for information, such as a request that certain reports be sent to me automatically each month?

No. The City is required to make available for inspection and copying, subject to any applicable exemptions, only those public records that exist on the date of the request. Persons seeking to inspect or obtain copies of public records on a continuing basis are required to make a new request for any additional records sought after the date of the original request.