Arizona, like most states, has adopted a set of laws that grant public access to most records and data collected by government officers or a public body. Public bodies include any board, branch, commission, committee or council in a state, county, city or town level governing role as well as school districts, political subdivisions or special taxing districts. Arizona law allows that “any person” be able to request information for any purpose including commercial use so long as it is not shown to be misused. Any record that can be legally examined, can also be copied and distributed. If stated at the time of request that the record will be used for commercial reasons, businesses and organizations may use the information for profit or service.
So where to start? The first step is to determine exactly which documents or records you are trying to obtain. Requests for “gimme everything ya got” are, naturally, going to be rejected. In the best interest for accuracy of reports and efficiency for the agency, you will want to get yourself informed. Discard any “us versus them” mentality when dealing with an agency. There may be delays and inconsistencies, but undue hardship on the system isn’t beneficial to anyone. Ridiculous and unprepared requests create overhead and cost taxpayers money as well as create opponents to the freedom of information laws. Many states are trying to create laws that will punish abusive behavior regarding public record requests.
Once you have figured out what kind of information you are searching for, such as annual costs for the cafeteria staff for your child’s school district, you need to contact the right department. A call to the mayor’s office or a letter to your congressman is not going to find its way to the right hands if you are requesting information from the local school district. Asking about Arizona public records at a library is an excellent way to help you figure out where to direct your request. Librarians can aid people in their quest to obtain public information. They have access to lists of agencies based on their governing body to help people contact the correct officers for their situations.
Verbal requests can be taken over the phone or in person, but I would strongly suggest submitting a written request and tracking all documentation. Future records and ongoing submissions are available, but only for highly defined and specific records. There is no set standard in Arizona for preparation or response time from the government agency. Keeping accurate logs on when requests were made can be important if you feel your requests are being ignored or delayed.
In events where records are denied or are being continuously delayed, try contacting the individual agency again and request reason for denial. Afterwards, contact a dispute resolution organization such as the Arizona Ombudsman or the State Attorney General’s office. If the request is still denied or unduly delayed, then there is a process through the Superior Court where the case can be appealed and heard for its constitutionality. There will be court fees involved in this process, but according to state law; “the court may award attorney fees and other legal costs that are reasonably incurred in any action under this article if the person seeking public records has substantially prevailed.”