June 8, 1995
Ms. Lynne A. Eckardt
Brewster, NY 10509
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Ms. Eckardt:
I have received your letter of May 15 in which you indicated that you are having difficulty obtaining records from the Brewster Public Library.
According to your letter, currently, in order to seek records under the Freedom of Information Law, a request must be submitted to the Library Director, who in turn contacts the records access officer. Since you would like to deal directly with the records access officer, "thus eliminating the library staff as middlemen", you asked whether it is "within [your] rights to call the RAO directly and if so should his/her name and phone number be readily available through the library."
In this regard, although some of my remarks may be duplicative of those made to you in an opinion prepared on June 29, 1994, I offer the following comments.
First, in my opinion, the initial responsibility to deal with requests is borne by an agency's records access officer, and the regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government (21 NYCRR Part 1401) provide direction concerning the designation and duties of a records access officer. Specifically, §1401.2 of the regulations provides in relevant part that:
"(a) The governing body of a public corporation and the head of an executive agency or governing body of other agencies shall be responsible for insuring compliance with the regulations herein, and shall designate one or more persons as records access officer by name or by specific job title and business address, who shall have the duty of coordinating agency response to public requests for access to records. The designation of one or more records access officers shall not be construed to prohibit officials who have in the past been authorized to make records or information available to the public from continuing to do so."
Based on the foregoing, I believe that the records access officer, rather than the Library Director, has the duty of coordinating responses to requests. It appears the reverse may be so in the situation that you described.
Section 1401.2(b) of the regulations describes the duties of a records access officer and states in part that:
"The records access Officer is responsible for assuring that agency personnel:
(1) Maintain an up-to-date subject matter list. (2) Assist the requester in identifying requested records, if necessary. (3) Upon locating the records, take one of the following actions: (i) make records promptly available for inspection; or (ii) deny access to the records in whole or in part and explain in writing the reasons therefor. (4) Upon request for copies of records: (i) make a copy available upon payment or offer to pay established fees, if any; or (ii) permit the requester to copy those records. (5) Upon request, certify that a record is a true copy. (6) Upon failure to locate the records, certify that: (i) the agency is not the custodian for such records; or (ii) the records of which the agency is a custodian cannot be found after diligent search."
Second, §1401.9 of the regulations states in relevant part that:
"Each agency shall publicize by posting in a conspicuous location and/or by publication in a local newspaper of general circulation... The name, title, business address and business telephone number of the designated records access officer."
From my perspective, the provision quoted above indicates an intent to enable the public to contact the records access officer directly and to ensure that the records access officer's name and phone number should be readily available.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Library Director
William Keefe, Records Access Officer