Bad news: public records requesting always takes a lot longer than you expect. Here’s an overview of the timeline as well as some tips for expediting your request when you make a request for public records under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.
5 days: the amount of time an open-records officer typically has to acknowledge and respond to your request for a record.
30 days: the standard extension the open-records officer can invoke if they need more time to find the record you want, or if they must analyze whether the record falls under an exemption in § 708.
15 business days: the amount of time you have to appeal to the OOR from the date your request for a record is denied, or deemed denied.
Months: the length of time an appeal from the OOR to the courts will take.
Top Four Tips on Getting Records Quickly
- Be specific in your request.
The open-records officer responding to your RTKL request can get you the record you want quickly if you make it clear what you want. If you know the exact title of a report or document, or the approximate date the record was made, include that information in your request!
- Three requests for one document are better than one request for three documents.
Your mileage may vary here depending on which agency is responding to your request, but submitting a few requests, each for one record, is often better than submitting one giant request for many unrelated documents. As stated above, an agency typically has 5 days to respond to your request – making smaller requests that can be managed in that timeframe can help prevent the agency from needing to invoke their right to a 30=day extension.
- Be Polite
Agency open-records officers deal with anywhere from dozens to thousands of RTKL requests each year, almost always on top of their other job duties. Be polite if they contact you for clarification or if you need to follow up with them! This won’t necessarily change the timeline, it’s just a good tip to follow overall.
- Be Willing to Work with the Open Records Officer
If you don’t know the exact name of a record you want but gave a general description of it, indicate in your request that you are open to being contacted to clarify what you meant in that description.
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