A&A: Public records request run around from housing authority

Q: We requested a copy of a payment performance bond from the city’s Housing Authority for a general contractor that we did work for as a sub. We also requested a copy of the contract and were told we would have to pay for it and it could take 2-3 weeks.

We are trying to obtain this information because the general contractor has not paid us and we need this information to try and get the bonding company to pay our remaining balance of contract. How do I get this information if they are refusing to give it to us?

A: I am not aware of any exception to the public records act for either payment of performance bonds or government contracts in general. As a general matter, all government contracts will be public records. Indeed, it seems here that the Housing Authority is not claiming otherwise. It merely is delaying the release of the records and seeking to charge you.

With respect to the timing of the release of the records, the Public Records Act provides only that the agency must, within ten days of the receipt of a written request for records…

“determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the agency and shall promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor.” Govt. Code section 6253(c).

But the law does not specify when the records so determined to be disclosable must actually be disclosed. The Act only says that records shall be made “promptly available.” Govt. Code section 6253(b).

That being said, 2-3 weeks seems like a long time to produce copies of records that are likely brief and readily available. You may want to push back against the agency and let them know that you believe the Public Records Act requires a more “prompt” production than 2-3 weeks out.

Regarding costs, the Public Records Act permits an agency to pass on to a requester only the direct costs of duplication. Govt. Code section 6253(b). An agency is not permitted to charge for search and retrieval time. North County Parents v. Department of Education, 23 Cal. App. 4th 144 (1994).

You may want to ask the agency for a breakdown of any fees you are charged so that you can be sure you only pay the direct cost of duplication.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.