To request documents from the county
a handy version of the form you'll get
if you go to the county's
To print this version, set all margins to 1",
choose a simple font like Courier
(not a proportional space
and set the type size to 12 points.
print out neatly on 2 pages:
-- but before you use that form, see the update just below.
The county approved (unofficially) of the above form, but on
March 24, 2009, the Board Of Supervisors raised fees for copies.
This makes it more important to hold costs down for people who
want to see public records, and perhaps copy them. Just because
you want to see public records, doesn't mean you automatically want to
buy copies of them, but the county has been making copies of everything
requested, and asking people to pay for the copies. That's wrong,
and the raised fees make it more of a problem. So here's a form
that tells the county that if you want copies, you will ask for them
after inspecting the documents:
An recent Arizona Supreme Court case guarantees citizens access
to "metadata" in electronic documents, and suggests that the easiest
way for counties to provide this information is to provide a requestor
with a copy of the record in its native format. The case is Lake v. Phoenix, and the full opinion is online at
The Court says that if a public entity maintains a public record in an
electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded
metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records laws.
To understand that holding, three terms -- "record," "public record" and "metadata" -- must be defined.
-- "Record" means "all books, papers, maps,
photographs or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form
or characteristics ... made or received by any governmental agency in
pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public
business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by the agency
... as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions,
procedures, operations or other activities of the government, or
because of the informational and historical value of data contained
-- "Public record" means (1) a record "made by a
public officer in pursuance of a duty, the immediate purpose of which
is to disseminate information to the public, or to serve as a memorial
of official transactions for public reference"; (2) a record that the
law requires to be kept, or "necessary to be kept in the discharge of a
duty imposed by law or directed by law to serve as a memorial and
evidence of something written, said or done"; or (3) "a written record
of transactions of a public officer in his office, which is a
convenient and appropriate method of discharging his duties, and is
kept by him as such," whether required by law or not.
-- "Metadata" means "information describing the
history, tracking, or management of an electronic document."
Examples include "file designation, create and edit dates, authorship,
comments, and edit history." This is all "inherent" or
"application" metadata, which is embedded in the file it describes and
moves with the file when it is moved or copied. This case does
not address "external" or "system" metadata, which is not part of a
document. The metadata in this case was, for certain computer
files, "the TRUE creation date, the access date, the access dates for
each time it was accessed, including who accessed the file as well as
print dates etc."
ARS 39-121.01(B) requires public entities and officers to "maintain all
records... reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate
knowledge of their official activities and of any of their activities
which are supported by monies from the state or any political
subdivision of the state." The Supreme Court found that all
records required to be made and maintained by 39-121.01(B) and
preserved by (C) are to be available for inspection under 39-121 and
copying under 39-121.01(D), subject to discretion as to privacy,
confidentiality, or the best interest of the state.
The metadata in an electronic document is part of the document; it does
not stand on its own; it is as much a part of the document as the words
on the page. Arizona's public records law requires a review of a
copy of the "real record." It would be illogical, and contrary to
the policy of openness, to let public entities withhold information
embedded in an electronic document, such as the date of creation, which
they would be required to produce if it were written on paper. So
when a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format,
the electronic version of the record, including any embedded metadata,
is subject to disclosure under our public records law.
The lesson for citizens' public records requests is clear: when
you request e-documents, add a specification that you also are
requesting all metadata about the documents. Here's a form for a
public records request incorporating that lesson:
Here's a little squib about getting documents from the county:
Want to see what's in the county's public records, in a matter involving
you or anybody else? You have the right to. Just go to the county
offices, and fill in a form.
The form will ask if you want the records for commercial use, which
basically means, Do you intend to make a profit from the documents? If
your answer is No, then the county can't ask any more questions about
your intent. This writeup assumes that your purpose is non-commercial
and that you aren't gathering documents to sue the U.S., or as a victim
An online site has the state laws that govern your access to public
records. In Arizona, state laws are called the Arizona Revised Statutes
(the "ARS"). "Title 39," with the laws about access to public records,
is online at
Inside Title 39, the basic statute is ARS 39-121, which says "Public
records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to
inspection by any person at all times during office hours." There's
your basic right to see public documents.
Another statute says you "may request to examine or be furnished copies,
printouts or photographs of any public record ... or may request that
the custodian mail [copies to you, if you] pay in advance for any
copying and postage charges. The custodian ... shall promptly furnish
such copies, printouts or photographs and may charge a fee" (ARS
For copying, the county rate is currently 15 cents per page UPDATE 30 CENTS PER B&W PAGE AS OF 3/24/09. You can
save your money, and county time, by asking for electronic documents,
like email or online reports, to be emailed to you.
The desk clerk is not your enemy. Clerks carry out policy, they don't set
it. Most clerks like to work with people who treat them like human
beings. If a clerk acts like a jerk, you should talk to the supervisor
and see what's up.
However, if the supervisor or anyone else only says that it's
inconvenient to provide your documents now, that's not a good excuse.
The statute says the custodian "shall promptly furnish such copies," so
a request for records always has a high priority.
A custodian may withhold records on purpose. In that case, the
custodian "shall [if you ask for it] also furnish an index of records or
categories of records that have been withheld and the reasons [they]
have been withheld" (ARS 39-121.01.D.2).
In any case, if production is delayed too long, the law is that "Access
to a public record is deemed denied if a custodian fails to promptly
respond to a request for production or fails to provide ... an index of
any [items] withheld" (ARS 39-121.01.E).
What can you do if access is denied? Well, you can go to court. But I personally feel that "almost any settlement is better than almost
every lawsuit." If the county knows that it will lose big if you go to
court, that is a very strong incentive for the county to act right to
begin with. Therefore, if the county absolutely refuses access to
public documents, and gives you a straight explanation, not doubletalk,
consider that you may be wrong. On the other hand, attorneys have been
known to bluff. Hire your own attorney before deciding to sue.
And good luck in getting all the documents you request!
(As long as I'm giving out links to good websites, here's a really good
site, the Arizona Ombudsman giving out information about the Open
Meeting Law and public addess to documents: