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Asked a question 4 months ago

Does anyone have experience with FOIA requests? I've submitted one asking for information on accidents involving pedestrians, and the city has sent it to the Attorney General trying to get out of answering.

Where am I?

In Strong Towns you can ask and answer questions and share your experience with others!

Suzanne Maeder
Councilwoman, Manville NJ

The best way to fill out an OPRA request is to be as specific as possible. So name the streets and block numbers in question, the date range, and the kind of documentation you think might be there (incident reports, police blotter records, etc). 

Thanks all for the advice!

My understanding of the situation so far is the the city has the information to answer my request, but is petitioning the AG that they believe they are excepted from providing it. Unfortunately they have not yet specified exactly which of the exceptions laid out in Texas' law they believe applies.

I should hear which exceptions they are claiming next week, then wait up to another 45 days for the AG ruling. I will try to remain optimistic about government transparency.

Since you're in Texas, I may be able to direct you to the information you need without a FOIA request. It depends on the level of detail you're wanting.

You don't need to name your town, but what information are you seeking? Just general data like number of crashes, crash severity, race, age, car make of people involved, etc.? Or do you also need the police narrative of what happened? Individual police reports require FOIA. Most other things can be determined in a publicly accessible way.

Paul CorderStrong Towns Member
City of Lebanon, TN Planning Director

Each state is different but we handle FOIA requests all the time.  The FOIA system in our state is set up to provide public access to existing documents or digital files.  We are not required to create any new documents with this kind of request.  This means you have to be careful how you ask for information.  If someone ask for a map of all the oak trees in town, for example, we would just have to respond that we do not have that document and that would be the end of it. Maybe ask for "the crash reports for all crashes involving pedestrians between the dates of 01/01/19 and 12/31/19 inside the city limits."  Be specific about the existing documents that you want to see. 

Suzanne Maeder's answer contains good information. You should be specific or you may not get an answer, or have to pay for a lot of information you don't really want. From there it gets complicated and the attorneys get involved.  
The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on March 5 on whether charter designated city officials can keep information from the public by simply not ever providing them to the city council for deliberation even though the costs required to create the records were billed to and paid by the city.  The city won in the lower courts and it is now before the Supreme Court for a final decision. It has taken 4 years to get there and probably well over $300,000 in legal fees. There is a serious question of whether Michigan's current FOIA law will survive if the Court agrees with the lower courts.  
All of that is probably not encouraging. It may be a long, expensive and litigious process depending on how willing the controlling parties are to release the information.