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August 1, 2003

When Are Public Records Available for Examination and Copying?

The public can drop in at government offices at any time.

Government offices usually are busy places, especially in tight budget times when officials may face increasing responsibilities with decreasing resources. But Iowa's Public Records Law confers citizens with rights that may be exercised at any time. Does this mean that access to public records must be provided immediately on request? What if the lawful custodian is unsure whether a public record is open or confidential and can't reach legal counsel? How does the law balance the right of public access with the need to keep certain records confidential or consult legal counsel?

The Public Records Law provides that people may exercise their rights under Ch. 22 "at any time during the customary office hours of the lawful custodian." (Iowa Code Sec. 22.4.) Here are some principles for applying the law and providing timely access to records:

  • No appointment is necessary. Citizens can exercise their rights under the Public Records Law at any time during customary office hours without advance notice. If the government office does not have customary office hours of at least thirty hours per week, the law imposes a right of access from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Of course, a citizen and the government office may agree on a different time.
  • There is time to resolve legal issues. The fact that the rights under Chapter 22 can be exercised at any time does not mean the records must be produced immediately. For example, a good-faith, reasonable delay does not violate the law if the purpose is to determine whether the record requested is confidential. (See the statute for other reasons that might cause a good-faith, reasonable delay. Iowa Code Sec. 22.8(4).) But the time to resolve legal issues is limited. A good-faith, reasonable delay shall not exceed twenty calendar days and should not exceed ten business days. Iowa Code Sec. 22.8(4)(d).

In summary: The public is entitled to drop in at any time and request access to public records. Government officials should consult with legal counsel when necessary, but should act quickly and keep an eye on the calendar.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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