Inspect vs. Request, and Proposals as Public Records
Q: I’d like to know if proposals made to cities in response to a request for proposals are public records. Also, I’ve heard that there is no 10-day waiting period if someone simply asks to inspect a record, and does not ask for copies in a PRA. Is that true?
A: Under the Public Records Act, all documents created, owned, or maintained by a public agency are presumptively available for public inspection unless one of the PRA’s exemptions applies. Govt Code § 6253(a). Under the PRA, all documents created, owned, or maintained by a public agency are presumptively available for public inspection unless one of the PRA’s exemptions applies. Govt Code § 6253(a). There is no obvious exemption that would authorize withholding proposals submitted pursuant to an RFP issued by a government agency in California. It is not unusual, however, for agencies to resist disclosing records that should be disclosed under the PRA, and it is possible that the facts surrounding a particular document could authorize non-disclosure. Initial objections can sometimes be overcome by explaining why the claimed exemption should not apply to the record at issue (and sometimes by reminding the agency that successful litigation under the PRA means the agency pays the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees).
As for inspection versus copies, public records are open to inspection “at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record.” Govt Code § 6253(a). Upon a request, the agency “shall make the records promptly available.” Govt Code § 6253(b). Typically, the 10-day period for agencies to respond has applied to requests for copies of public records. The PRA provides that “[e]ach agency, upon a request for a copy of records, shall, within 10 days from receipt of the request, determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records…” Govt Code § 6253(c) (emphasis added). Under the PRA, agencies should provide copies as soon as possible, with 10 days permitted for situations in which the agency must make a decision as to whether the records are disclosable in the first place.