Q: We recently received a public information request asking that a copy of the Board “packet” be sent to them each month prior to the Board meeting. Do we have to comply with this request?
A: No. While the documents in a Board packet might be considered public information, you do not have to comply with “pre-scheduled” requests. That is, a citizen must make a written request for information currently in existence each time they desire such information.
The Texas Public Information Act (“TPIA”) is found with Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code and generally gives members of the public the right to request access to governmental records, subject to many exceptions. It is well-established and recognized by the Attorney General that the TPIA only applies to information currently in existence. See Tex. Gov’t Code §552.002; Op. Records Dec. No. 555 (1990). Thus, a governmental body need only provide access to records that actually exist at the time the request is made.
The Attorney General’s office has specifically addressed this question and determined that the TPIA “does not require a governmental body to treat a request for information as a continuing one.” See Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-48 (1983). In additional open records decisions that followed, the Attorney General’s office has repeatedly upheld this notion and found, for example, that a governmental body “is not obliged to comply with a standing request to provide information on a weekly basis,” instead requiring that the requestor periodically re-submit his requests so that the governmental entity can consider the availability of records each time he requests them. Op. Records Dec. No. 476 (1987); see also Op. Records Dec. No. 465 (1987).
Since the request at issue seeks records that are not in existence at the time of the request, the District is not obligated to comply with the requestor’s demands. The law is clear that the District does not have to honor a “standing request” which would automatically generate future information in accordance with the specified timeline of the requestor. In this instance, we would recommend responding to the requestor in writing advising that the information sought pertaining to future board meetings is not currently in existence and must be requested, in writing, each time such information is desired.
Note, if the requestor does submit a request immediately before or after a board meeting seeking to obtain a copy of the Board “packet,” you will need to analyze each document within the packet carefully for any confidential information. Look carefully for confidential information within real estate, security, personnel or student agenda items, as well as litigation updates. As is the case with any TPIA request, clarification to the requestor seeking to exclude the confidential information or requesting an opinion from the Attorney General will be required prior to release. We would advise contacting your school district’s legal counsel immediately for assistance. As a reminder, there are tight deadlines relating to public information requests, so don’t delay response – you must forward the requested records, communicate with the requestor in writing with an estimate for delivery or seeking clarification, or request an opinion to the Attorney General, within ten (10) district business days.