Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- September 2005
The Copier Broke Down! Now What?
Public officials must furnish copies - even when the copier breaks down!
Government bodies in Iowa range from large, well-equipped offices with dozens of employees, to small boards or councils with one or two staff members. Some offices may be equipped so modestly that they operate with only one copy machine. So, what happens if the copy machine breaks down -- and then someone requests a public record? Can public officials simply tell requesters: "Sorry, the copier broke down"? Large, small, or in-between, all government bodies have a duty to furnish the public a reasonable number of copies of public records.
The duty to provide a reasonable number of copies of public records continues even after the copier breaks down. Here are guidelines to keep in mind when faced with broken copy equipment:
Collaborative arrangements. Government offices may share copiers or "borrow" copy equipment from other offices as long as they charge the public only the actual cost of furnishing copies.
Commercial copy centers. Government offices may use commercial copy centers to make copies of public records for the requester, but special precautions may be necessary to protect confidential information if the records, like medical records or tax records, are not open for everyone to examine.
Preservation of originals. Public officials must protect records from being damaged or disorganized. So officials should either personally make the copies or personally supervise the copying process -- original public records should never be relinquished. Iowa Code sec. 22.3. (See April 2002 Advisory, "Safeguarding Public Records -- Public officials need to facilitate access and protect records.")
Remember: Government bodies maintain public records for all the people of Iowa and must act responsibly to make them available for examination and copying -- even when the copier breaks down!
Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office -- toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)
"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins provide information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws -- our "Sunshine Laws." The bulletins are a resource for public officials and citizens. Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.
Iowa Attorney General's Office: Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.