Making a public records request

How do I make a public records request in Tennessee? That’s the most common question we get!

Here is a short guide that answers the basics:

(Image by Nick Youngson, Alpha Stock Images, CC BY-SA 3.0)

1 – Public records request form. This form was developed by the Office of Open Records Counsel, and is a standard form that should be accepted by all government entities in Tennessee. While the law does not require you to fill out a form to request to inspect public records, a government entity can require a form if you want copies. A form can be useful for both the requester and the government entity because it makes sure you have all your bases covered in making the request.

2 – Where do you send your request? You’ll need to send the form to the public records custodian of the government entity that has the documents you want. While no master list exists on the public records contact for all government entities in Tennessee, we’ve compiled contact information or links to contact information for many entities here. You’ll note that these lists also contain links to the government entity’s public records policy, which will outline any fees:

Note: In Tennessee, government entities are required to accept public records requests by email if they normally use email for government business. Feel free to ask for an email address when you call the entity. But I always suggest following up with a phone call after you send your email to make sure they received it.

3 – How long will it take? The law requires government entities to promptly respond to public records requests. But it also allows entities seven days to respond if it’s not practical for the government entity to respond promptly. That may sound confusing, but essentially, if you are asking for a record that is readily available – such as minutes from a meeting, a meeting agenda, or a report that was mentioned in a public meeting — you should be able to get it immediately. If you are asking for something that the government entity has to search for, or that the government has to redact because it has confidential information on it, this will take longer.

Note that the government entity’s response within that 7 days is allowed to be one of three things:

  • Provide the record
  • Deny the record and cite the legal basis for the denial (they should cite the exemption in the law)
  • Give you an estimate of how long it will take to fulfill your public records request. (This response should only occur for records that are taking some time to compile for reasonable reasons)

4 – More questions? Feel free to reach out to us on our Help Line.

You might also want to peruse our guide to open records and open meetings law: Keys to Open Government.

What do you think?