CONSUMER ALERT: LEARN MORE ABOUT FOIA DURING SUNSHINE WEEK

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March 19, 2014

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas consumers interact with their state and local governments in one way or another every day. And, as taxpayers who support those governmental entities, Arkansans have the right to review an array of records at every level of government and to attend meetings of policy-making, tax-supported governing bodies.

That right is provided to Arkansans through the Freedom of Information Act, a law enacted by the General Assembly in 1967 that allows for access to most public records and meetings. Arkansas’s Freedom of Information law is one of the strongest and most comprehensive in the country.

The state’s FOIA gains greater attention during National Sunshine Week each year in mid-March. National Sunshine Week is observed across the United States to highlight the importance of open government and freedom of information.

In recognition of National Sunshine Week, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today issued this consumer alert focusing on the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

“Our state’s robust FOIA gives Arkansans an opportunity to be actively engaged with government agencies and well-informed about the issues that affect us all,” McDaniel said. “Better-informed citizens make for a better government. I have always believed a strong open-records and open-meetings law to be one of the hallmarks of a democratic society.”

For consumers who seek an in-depth understanding of the Arkansas FOIA, the Attorney General’s Office joins with other organizations to produce and distribute the Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook. The handbook’s 16th edition was just released, and print copies of the new handbook are available upon request from the Attorney General’s Office. Electronic copies of the handbook are also available on the Attorney General’s website. Visit www.ArkansasAG.gov/media-center/foia/.

FOIA gives the public access to public meetings and public records, with some exceptions. The Act defines a public record as any writing, sound, video, or electronic information that is kept and that reflects the performance or lack of performance of an official function. Some public records are exempt from disclosure, such as personnel records in which disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, or those records that are kept as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Requests for public records are made to the custodian of those records. Though the requests may be made in person or by phone, most requests are submitted in writing. Since most documents fall into the category of being in “active use” or in “storage,” most entities have up to three days to produce the information requested.

Just as Arkansans have the right to view public records, they have the right to attend most meetings of governing bodies. Notice of regular meetings must be given to those who request it and notice of special meetings is required to be given to members of the media who have asked to be notified. An exception to the open-meetings provision of FOIA is that governing bodies can enter into closed “executive” sessions in order to consider the employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of an individual officer or employee.

There are several other exemptions to the open-meetings and open-records rules, most of which are detailed in the FOIA handbook. To download the handbook, go to www.ArkansasAG.gov/media-center/foia/. For more information, contact Aaron Sadler at the Attorney General’s Office at (501) 682-0517.

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