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Access to Public Records

How do I obtain a copy of a public record in Modesto?

To review or receive a copy of a public record, you must first make a request to the City Clerk's Office or the City department that has the records you are interested in reviewing. For example, if you are interested in reviewing a copy of a report from the Department of Public Works, you should direct your request to that Department.

Do I have to make my request in writing?

No. You may make an oral or written request, in person or through the mail. However, we recommend that you put your request in writing so there is a clear record of your request. In addition, a written request that includes your contact information can help facilitate the City’s response to your request. A written request that is clear and concise also helps the custodian to respond to your request in a timely and efficient manner.

What do I need to say in my request?

There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language you must use in your request. You must provide a reasonable description of the desired records. To expedite processing of your request, you should be as specific as possible and provide timelines whenever possible to help narrow the search.

How long does a City department have to respond to my request?

Generally, the City must respond to a request to inspect or copy records within ten days. In "unusual circumstances," the City may extend its time to respond by an additional fourteen calendar days. The City must inform you in writing of the extension within the initial ten-day period.

"Unusual circumstances" permitting the extension are limited to the need to: ((a) search for and collect the requested records from facilities separate from the office processing the request; (b) search for, collect and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records included in a single request; and/or (c) consult with another part of the department or with another department that has a substantial interest in the response to the request.

How much may the City charge me for responding to the request?

The City may not charge any fees to cover the time and costs incurred in searching for, locating or collecting records to respond to your request. However, the Department may charge you for the duplication of copies of records. That amount will be provided to you. Whenever possible the department will advise you of the estimated cost of the copies before the costs of copying are incurred.

You are also free to make arrangements to view the records, and there is no charge for this.

Do I have to tell the City why I want the record?

No. You do not have to give the City a reason for reviewing the record. City employees, however, may ask questions relating to your request if it helps them respond to the request or direct you to another Department that may have the records you seek.

What records are public?

The law defines "public record" broadly to include "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency, regardless of the physical form and characteristics." A document does not have to be in written form to be a public record. A public record may consist of any medium that contains information, such as a computer tape or disc or video or cassette recording.

Every record made or received by the City is presumed to be a public record, unless it is subject to an exemption. Exempt records are those that Federal, State or Local law prohibits the City from disclosing or permits the City to decline to disclose. For example, the United States and California Constitutions prohibit the disclosure of personal information that would violate an individual's right to privacy.

The custodian of records must either give you a copy of the requested record or provide you with a written justification of why the record is not public (i.e. exempt from disclosure). The City is not required to create a document in response to a request. Nor is the City required to honor prospective requests.

If the custodian denies the request, is he or she required to give me a written log listing the documents the City is refusing to disclose?

No. Although the City is required to provide a written justification giving the legal reason why the record is not public, the law does not require the City to provide to you a document log.