Public Access Ombudsman
How Do I?
For assistance with a dispute between a requester and an agency, please contact the Public Access Ombudsman by email at email@example.com or by phone at (410) 576-6560. You can also learn more and submit a complaint by clicking here.
Effective July 1, 2022, the PIA Compliance Board will be able to review and resolve PIA complaints regarding:
- The denial of inspection of public records;
- Unreasonable fees higher than $350 for public records;
- Failure to respond to a request for public records; and
- PIA request is “frivolous, vexatious, or in bad faith.”
Before filing a complaint, a party must first attempt to resolve the PIA dispute through the Public Access Ombudsman. Click here for information about the PIA Compliance Board and its procedures and meeting notices.
Requests may be submitted to the agency’s “official custodian” or to the person the agency designates as its PIA representative under GP § 4-503(a). That provision requires that each governmental unit identify a representative to whom applicants should send PIA requests and post the representative’s contact information on the unit’s website or, if it does not have one, “at a place easily accessible by the public.” The contact information must include the representative’s name, business address, phone number, and email address, and the unit’s internet address. Click here to access the PIA Custodian List found in Appendix J of the PIA Manual.
The PIA representative for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General is:
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Frequently Asked Questions
No. Because the role of the Ombudsman is to serve as a mediator, there is no decision made by the Ombudsman and, therefore, no ability to file an appeal from the outcome of the mediation process.
There is no central location from which to request public records. Instead, a request should go to the agency that has responsibility for the record(s) you seek. The Public Information Act Representatives list located in the List of Custodians shows the contact person for each government agency. If you do not know what agency has the records you seek, you may review the Maryland State Archives’ Maryland Manual Online, check an agency’s website directly, or contact your local library for assistance from the reference staff to identify the agency that has the particular type of record.
The speed with which a mediation can be conducted depends on a number of factors, including the nature/complexity of the PIA dispute, the responsiveness of the parties, and the number of requests pending in the Ombudsman’s queue, as examples. To get a better idea of the mediation process, please review the Ombudsman’s Mediation Process One-Pager. Once you have contacted the Ombudsman to request mediation assistance, a file is generally opened within three business days. Once the file is open, the Ombudsman will have 90 days to attempt to resolve the PIA dispute unless the parties agree to an extension in writing. At the conclusion of a mediation, a written Final Determination will be issued to the parties.
The Public Access Ombudsman mediates disputes under the Public Information Act that a requester and a records custodian have been unable to resolve themselves. The mediation process is entirely voluntary and confidential, and the Ombudsman does not have the authority to enforce the provisions of the PIA. Rather, the Ombudsman’s duties focus solely on attempting to resolve disputes between a applicant/requester and a records custodian/agency about a request for public information.
Examples of issues that the Ombudsman can attempt to mediate include:
- Exemption (Denial of Request)
- Redactions (Partial Denial of Request)
- No response from custodian
- Late response by custodian
- Partial, nonresponsive, or incomplete response
- Excessive estimated or charged fees
- Fee waiver request denied or ignored
- Custodian’s need for more time to respond
- Overly broad PIA request
- Request is frivolous, vexatious, or made in bad faith
In order for the Ombudsman to open a file and begin mediation, the Ombudsman will need the following information:
- Requestor and agency contact information, and
- A brief description of the PIA dispute.
Additionally, the Ombudsman requests copies of the following documents in order to open a file:
- A copy of the original PIA request to the custodian.
- A copy of the custodian’s 10-day response to the PIA request (if any).
- A copy of the custodian’s final response to the PIA request (if any).
In the event that any or all of these items are unavailable, please provide a description of this information, being sure to include dates, key details, and contact information. Click here to learn more about requesting mediation.
A public record is defined as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form created or received by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business. Included in the definition are written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps, drawings, and other materials. As technology has advanced, the term has been considered to include email messages as well as text messages.
When an individual requests public records from an agency or governmental unit, the agency or unit must provide records that it has within its possession or control. There are some exceptions that apply to confidential materials. In addition, agencies have retention and destruction policies in place that may render materials unavailable after a certain period of time.
When a contractor stores or uses records for a government agency and the records involve ongoing government operations, those records are subject to a PIA request that the agency receives. The physical location of the records with the contractor does not govern the analysis. Instead, the focus is on whether the records fall within the control of the custodian. Similarly, when a contractor performs services for a government agency that include the submission of a formal report or status updates to the government agency, those records would be subject to the PIA. Presumably, the agency’s records management system would provide guidance regarding how long and where to keep the materials. If the items were misplaced or could not be found, however, the agency may have the responsibility for obtaining the records from the contractor to correct the deficiency. And if the contractor failed to provide the information in the first instance, the agency would have a right to obtain them to complete its own records.
The PIA Manual contains extensive information about the PIA, and includes Appendix J which contains a list of public records custodians for agencies throughout Maryland.
For more information about what you can expect with mediation, please click here or download the Ombudsman’s Mediation Process One-Pager.