Public Access Ombudsman
How Do I?
The PIA Compliance Board hears complaints involving allegations that a government custodian has imposed an unreasonable fee of more than $350 under the Act. Note that the statute imposes a 90-day deadline on filing a complaint and other dates affect the progress of the complaint. This differs from the Ombudsman’s process, which does not have deadlines. 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.
For assistance with a dispute between a requester and an agency, please contact the Public Access Ombudsman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (410) 576-6560. See this form for guidance regarding the information that should appear in the request.
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 Manual on the Maryland Archives website, check agency websites directly, or contact your local library for assistance from the reference staff to identify the agency that has the particular type of record.
You will be contacted by the Office of the Ombudsman within a few days once you submit a complaint, depending on the Ombudsman’s workload. Depending on the amount of details you include, you may be asked for additional information before the Ombudsman can contact the person or agency that is the subject of your complaint. Once the Ombudsman has spoken with both of you, the length of time to resolve your dispute depends on the cooperation of the requester and the records custodian and on the Ombudsman’s caseload.
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 Ombudsman does not accept PIA requests on behalf of agencies and cannot compel the parties to act in a particular way. The Ombudsman’s duties focus solely on attempting to resolve disputes between a requester and a records custodian about a pending request for public information.
- Denial of a request for waiver of fees
- Withholding of records based on an asserted exemption
- Timeliness of the custodian’s response
- Overly broad requests
- Repetitive or redundant requests
A request for assistance from the Ombudsman should include the initial request for information, the response, the dates of each, and a description of the dispute involved. See the intake form for details of the submission.
Ombudsman Process. For more information about what you can expect with mediation, download the PDF below.
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.