Ask an Expert Questions and Answers FOI

Can officials routinely wait 10 days to respond to my records requests?

Question: City officials routinely wait 10 days on all my open records requests, even when those records are easily accessible. Is that a violation of the Texas open records laws?

Answer: The Texas Public Information Act (552.221) does indeed give officials 10 days to produce a document “if it is in active use or in storage.” But otherwise, the law stipulates that the record shall be produced “promptly.” The law leaves no doubt about what that means: “An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer.  In this subsection, “promptly” means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.”

For city officials who want to quibble about the definition of “promptly,” note that the law itself defines the word: “without delay.”

Also, the Attorney General’s Guide to the Public Information Act specifies this on page 22: “’Promptly’ means that a governmental body may take a reasonable amount of time to produce the information, but may not delay. It is a common misconception that a governmental body may wait ten business days before releasing the information. In fact, as discussed above, the requirement is to produce information ‘promptly.’ What constitutes a reasonable amount of time depends on the facts in each case.”


By Kathryn Jones Malone

Kathryn Jones Malone is co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism. She began her career as a staff writer at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, then worked as a staff writer for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News; as a contract writer for The New York Times; as a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly magazine; as editor of the Glen Rose Reporter; and as a freelance writer for numerous state, regional and national magazines. She teaches journalism at Tarleton State University.