120  Public Records - Inspecting and Copying

Approved by Board of Trustees
Effective Date: June 2, 2019
Responsible Division:  President
Responsible Office:  Office of the University Counsel
Responsible Officer:  University Counsel

I. Purpose

Pursuant to T.C.A. § 10-7-503(g), this policy, approved by the Middle Tennessee State University Board of Trustees (Board), establishes the process under Tennessee’s Public Records Act for making and responding to requests to inspect and/or copy records, including redaction practices; the fees charged for copies of public records; the procedures for billing and payment; and the name or title and contact information of the public records request coordinator. In accordance with T.C.A. § 10-7-503, all records made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU or University) business shall, at all times during business hours, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by State law. T.C.A. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A).

Personnel of MTSU shall timely and efficiently provide access and assistance to persons requesting to view or receive copies of public records, and this policy shall not be used to hinder access to open public records. However, the integrity and organization of public records, as well as the efficient and safe operation of the University, shall be protected as provided by law. Concerns about this policy should be addressed to the Public Records Request Coordinator for MTSU or to the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel.

This policy shall be applied consistently within the various offices, departments, and divisions of MTSU.

II. Definitions

A.  Records Custodian. The MTSU office(s) or employee(s) lawfully responsible for the direct custody and care of a public record. A records custodian is not necessarily the original preparer or producer of the record. An entity such as MTSU has multiple records custodians.

B.  Public Records. All documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, electronic mail messages, films, sound recordings, or other material regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official University business and required to be open to inspection under the provisions of Tennessee law. It should be noted that the disclosure of student records is governed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Policy 500 Access to Education Records and, therefore, such records are not subject to this policy.

C.  Public Records Request Coordinator. The individual (or designee) responsible for ensuring that public records requests are routed to the appropriate records custodian and that requests are fulfilled in accordance with the Public Records Act. The University Counsel or designee is designated as the Public Records Request Coordinator and may be contacted at (615) 898-2025 or in 209 Cope Administration Building, MTSU, 1301 East Main Street, Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37132.

D.  Requestor. A person seeking access to a public record, whether it is for inspection or duplication.

E.  Employee Records. All records related to current or former employees (faculty, staff, graduate assistants, etc.) or applicants to such positions, excluding that information deemed confidential by statute, that are maintained in the Office of Human Resource Services (HRS), Payroll Office, Accounting Office, and any other department that may maintain records that include information on employees. Note that records pertaining to employment of student workers are confidential under FERPA.

F.  Confidential Information. Records or information in public records that shall not be open for public inspection under the Tennessee Public Records laws, include, but are not limited to, the following and any other information so defined by statute. 

1.  Employee Information. The following records or information for any employee, former employee, or applicant to such position:

a.  Home telephone and personal cell phone numbers;

b.  Bank account, individual health savings account, retirement account, and pension account information;

c.  Social Security number;

d.  Residential information, including the street address, city, state, and zip code;

e.  Driver’s license information, except where driving or operating a vehicle is part of the employee’s job description, job duties, or incidental to the performance of his/her job;

f.  The information listed in Items a.-e. above concerning immediate family members, whether or not the immediate family member resides with the employee or household members;

g.  Medical information, sick leave documentation, documentation relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Family Medical Leave Act, and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) files;

h.  Emergency contact information;

i.  Personal nongovernment issued email address;

j.  Job performance evaluations. For purposes of this policy, job performance evaluations includes, but is not limited to, job performance evaluations completed by supervisors, communications concerning job performance evaluations, self-evaluations of job performance prepared by employees, job performance evaluation scores, drafts, notes, memoranda, and all other records relating to job performance evaluations.

2.  Confidential Sponsored Research or Service. For the purposes of T.C.A. § 49-7-120, sponsored research or service means any research, analysis, or service conducted pursuant to grants or contracts between the University and a person or entity. Sponsored research or service records and materials that contain such things as proprietary information, trade secrets, or patentable materials received, generated, ascertained, or discovered during the course of research or service shall not be open for public inspection. The University will, however, make available upon request the title of a sponsored research or service project, names of the researchers, and amounts and sources of funding for the projects.

3.  Audit Working Papers. Records of an audit may include paper documents and/or electronic documents. Working papers are prepared from the time auditors first launch their assignments until they write the final reports. The working papers include, but are not limited to, the records of planning and surveys, the audit program, the results of field work, auditee records, intra-agency and interagency communications, draft reports, schedules, notes, memoranda, and all other records relating to the audit or investigation.

4.  Donor Records. In accordance with T.C.A. § 49-7-140, Confidentiality of Gift Records, records and information that concern gifts to the University or the University Foundation that include name, address, telephone number, social security number, driver’s license information, or any other personally identifiable information about the donor or members of the donor’s family shall not be open for inspection. The University or the Foundation will, however, make available upon request an annual report of gifts with the amount of the gift and a general description of its use.

5.  Pursuant to T.C.A. § 10-7-504(a)(11), records that are of historical research value that are donated or sold to the archives at the Albert Gore Research Center may be designated as confidential when the owner or donor of such records wishes to place restrictions on access to the records.  

6.  Information that is reasonably likely to identify a student accused of committing an alleged sexual offense or alleged violent sexual offense as defined in T.C.A. § 40-39-202 or any information that is reasonably likely to identify the victim of an alleged sexual offense or alleged violent sexual offense as defined in T.C.A. § 40-39-202 is confidential and not open for inspection by members of the public. Access to a file, document or data file may be provided if this information is able to be redacted so as not to reasonably identify the individual. This shall not limit access to law enforcement agencies, courts or other governmental agencies or instrumentalities performing official functions.

III. Procedures to Access Public Records

A.  Generally.

1.  Except for confidential records as prescribed by law, public records will be open for inspection by citizens of Tennessee during business hours which shall be the business hours of the University’s administrative offices.

2.  Requests for inspection only may be made orally and cannot be required to be made in writing. Requests for copies, or requests for inspection and copies, must be made in writing. The Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form may be used, but a written request in any form or format will be acceptable. Requests may be made to the Public Records Request Coordinator, 209 Cope Administration Building, MTSU, 1301 East Main Street, Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37132, or publicrecords@mtsu.edu.

3.  Persons requesting to inspect or copy records must show proof of Tennessee citizenship with a government-issued photo identification card including the person’s address (i.e., driver’s license, voter’s registration, etc.).

B.  Public Records Request Coordinator.

1.  The Public Records Request Coordinator (Coordinator) or designee shall review public record requests and make an initial determination of the following:

a.  if the requestor provided evidence of Tennessee citizenship;

b.  if the records requested are described with sufficient specificity to identify them; and

c.  if MTSU is the custodian of the records.

2.  The Coordinator shall acknowledge receipt of the request and take any of the following appropriate action(s):

a.  Advise the requestor of this policy and the determinations made regarding:

(1)  proof of Tennessee citizenship;

(2)  form(s) required for copies;

(3)  fees and charges, including labor and programming costs;

(4)  aggregation of multiple or frequent requests.

b.  If appropriate, deny the request in writing using the Public Records Request Response, which shall indicate the basis for the denial such as:

(1)  the requestor is not, or has not presented evidence of being, a Tennessee citizen;

(2)  the request lacks specificity;

(3)  an exemption makes the record not subject to disclosure;

(4)  the University is not the custodian of the requested records;

(5) the records do not exist.

c.  If appropriate, contact the requestor to see if the request can be narrowed.

d.  Forward the records request to the appropriate records custodian.

e.  If the Coordinator knows that the requested records are in the custody of a different governmental entity, advise the requestor of the correct governmental entity and the coordinator for that entity, if known.

3.  The Coordinator shall annually report to the Board concerning the institution’s compliance with the Tennessee Public Records Act and make recommendations, if any, for revisions to this policy.

C.  The University is not required to sort through files to compile information, create records, or recreate records that do not exist.

D.  Form or Format of Record to be Inspected/Copied. The public records laws require that actual records be produced or used for viewing and/or copying. The nature of certain records and applicable confidentiality requirements, however, may result in providing the requested record/information in a form or format other than the original records form or format. In such cases, the records custodian may coordinate with the requestor to find an alternate form or means of providing access to the same desired record or information as available under the open records laws.

E.  Redaction.

1.  With the exception of records which are confidential in their entirety (for example, student education records protected by FERPA), if a record contains confidential information or information that is not open for public inspection, the records custodian shall prepare a redacted copy prior to providing the records for inspection or copies of the records.

2.  Whenever a redacted record is provided, the records custodian should provide the requestor with the basis for redaction. The basis given shall be general in nature and not disclose confidential information.

F.  Inspection of Records. If the request is to inspect records, the records custodian will arrange a location for the requestor to do so and may, under reasonable circumstances, require an appointment for inspection. Inspection must be made in the presence of the records custodian. Custody of the original record is not to be relinquished.

G.  Time Required to Produce Records. The records custodian shall promptly make the requested public records available. If the record cannot be produced within seven (7) business days (i.e., time is needed to determine if the records exist; additional time is needed to search for, retrieve, or otherwise gain access to records; or it will take additional time to redact confidential information from the record), the requestor shall be advised when the record(s) will be available. All efforts will be made to provide the records within a reasonable period of time. A Public Records Request Response must be provided. If the request will be denied, a Public Records Request Response must be sent within seven (7) business days.

H.  Other Offices to be Notified. The Office of News and Media Relations should be notified when records are requested to be inspected/copied that may be deemed sensitive. This office may be required to assist in answering questions, coordinating release of any additional information, and ensuring correct understanding of the records. Further, these offices will be provided copies of inspected and/or copied records upon request or whenever the records custodian believes the circumstances warrant.

I.  Inspection of Employee Records.

1.  Personnel records of all faculty and staff, including former employees, are subject to inspection/copying under Tennessee’s Public Records Law, unless designated as confidential by statute. Persons requesting to inspect/copy personnel records are requested to complete the Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form and must show proof of Tennessee citizenship through a government-issued photo identification card. All confidential information must be redacted before inspection/copying. The current employee will be notified that such a request was made and who made the request.

2.  Medical records are maintained separately from personnel records and are considered to be confidential. Examples of medical records include, but are not limited to, sick leave documentation and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) files.

J.  Question if Document is Open Record. If it cannot be readily determined whether or not the Tennessee Public Records Law covers a requested document, the records custodian shall refer the matter to the Office of the University Counsel.

K.  University Departments. This procedure shall not apply to University departments that request to inspect and/or receive copies of records for University business purposes or records of employees who report to that department. Notwithstanding, however, the records custodian may require the requesting department to certify the business purpose of the request.

IV. Copying of Public Records

A.  The records custodian will make copies, or arrange for copies to be made, as well as determine copy fees and charges, as stated below, in the most economic and efficient manner practicable. An itemized estimate of the charges to be assessed for copies and labor should be provided to the requestor using the Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form prior to producing the requested copies. Payment of fees and charges are to be made in advance at the cashier’s window in the Student Services and Admissions Center and the requestor shall present the receipt to the records custodian. Payment will be credited to the record custodian’s account or the account of the department responsible for preparing the records. A requestor will be allowed to make copies of records with a camera or a cell phone if the number of pages to be copied is twenty-five (25) or less.

B.  Copy Format

1.  Notwithstanding the form of the records, reproduction or copying of records shall be made in a form as best determined by the records custodian.

2.  Electronic data and documents will be produced in read-only format.

3.  If the requested records exist electronically, but not in the format requested, or a new or modified computer program or application is necessary to put the records in a readable and reproducible format; or it is necessary to access backup files, the Records Custodian shall charge the requestor the actual costs incurred in producing the records in the format requested, or in creating or modifying a computer program or application necessary to put the records in a readable and reproducible format, or in accessing backup files.

4.  Records should be produced electronically whenever feasible as a means of utilizing the most cost effective method of producing records.

C.  If a records custodian reasonably determines that production of records should be segmented because the records request is for a large volume of records, or additional time is necessary to prepare the records for access, the records custodian shall notify the requestor by using the Public Records Request Response form that production of the records will be in segments and that a records production schedule will be provided as expeditiously as practicable.

D.  If a records custodian discovers records responsive to a records request were omitted, the requestor should be contacted concerning the omission and the records produced as quickly as possible.

E.  Copies will be available for pickup at a location specified by the records custodian. At the requestor’s request, and upon payment of postage, copies will be mailed to the requestor via USPS first-class mail.

F.  Fees and Charges.

1  No fees or charges may be imposed for inspection of records, even if copies of records were required to be made to allow for redaction of confidential information.

2.  An itemized estimate of the fees and charges should be provided to the requestor. Payment of this amount must occur prior to copies being made. Payment in full of the actual costs must be made prior to release of the requested copies. Both the estimated charges and the actual charges may be included on the Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form.

 3.  Fees.  

a.  Fifteen cents ($0.15) per page for letter or legal size black and white copies.

b.  Fifty cents ($0.50) per page for letter or legal size color copies.

c.  The price per copy for larger documents (such as blueprints and other specialized documents) is the actual cost.

d.  Documentation establishing the amount of the actual cost should be maintained.

e.  If producing copies utilizing the front and back of a single piece of paper, a charge for two (2) separate pages may be imposed for each single piece of paper.

f.  If a record is maintained in color but can be produced in black and white, the requestor shall be given the option of receiving black and white or color copies.

g.  If the determined format of the copy is other than paper photocopy, the requestor shall be charged a reasonable fee. Under special circumstances and depending on how best to reproduce/copy the records, the records custodian, with the approval of the Office of the University Counsel, may negotiate with the requestor the fee to be paid. Documentation establishing the basis of the fee should be maintained.

h.  Actual out-of-pocket costs for flash drives or similar storage devices on which electronic copies are provided may be charged. If a record is produced in electronic form, a per page fee is allowed to be charged if the custodian was required to print or produce a paper version of the record in order to create the electronic copy (for example, if a paper copy is printed in order to redact information).

i.  Any actual delivery costs incurred by the University, such as postal fees, will be added to the final bill for records.

4.  Labor Charges.

a.  A records custodian shall utilize the most cost efficient method of producing requested records. Accordingly, the records custodian should strive to utilize employees at the lowest practicable hourly wage to fulfill the records request.

b.  Labor is the time (in hours) reasonably necessary to produce requested records and includes the time spent locating, retrieving, reviewing, redacting, and reproducing the records. Labor also includes the time reasonably necessary to extract information requested from a database.

G.  The labor threshold is the first (1st) hour of labor reasonably necessary to produce requested records. The cost of labor exceeding the labor threshold will be charged to the requestor.

H.  Labor charges must be paid by the requestor to obtain copies of the records. A receipt upon payment of the fees and charges will be provided.                                           

I.  In calculating the labor charge, the records custodian shall determine the number of hours each employee spent producing a request. The hourly wage of an employee is based upon the base salary and does not include benefits. If an employee is not paid on an hourly basis, the hourly wage shall be determined by dividing the employee’s annual salary by the required hours to be work per year.  

J.  The records custodian should determine the total amount of labor for each employee and subtract the labor threshold from the highest paid employee spent producing the request. The records custodian should then multiply the amount of labor for each employee by each employee’s hourly wage to calculate the total amount of labor charges associated with the request. The form to record and calculate the labor cost is located at Calculation of Labor Costs. This form is used to tally these charges and the totals are provided to the requestor on the Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form.

K.  If the requested records exist electronically, but not in the format requested, a new or modified computer program or application is necessary to put the records in a readable and reproducible format, or it is necessary to access back up files, the requesting party shall be charged the actual costs incurred in producing the records in the format requested or in creating or modifying a computer program or application necessary to put the records in a readable and reproducible format or in accessing back up files.

L.  If the total amount of fees, labor/programming charges, and postage is less than twenty dollars ($20.00), the cost will be waived.

V. Aggregation of Frequent and Multiple Requests

A.  MTSU will aggregate record requests in accordance with the Frequent and Multiple Request Policy promulgated by the Office of Open Records Counsel when more than four (4) requests are received within a calendar month either from a single individual or a group of individuals deemed working in concert.

B.  The level at which records requests will be aggregated is by office.

C.  The Coordinator is responsible for making the determination that a group of individuals are working in concert. The Coordinator or records custodian must inform the individuals of this determination and that they have the right to appeal the decision to the Office of Open Records Counsel. 

VI. Documentation of Records Requests.

The records custodian should maintain the following documentation regarding the request to include, as appropriate:

A.  The Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records form, or other documentation used to request copies of records.

B.  Labor Cost form(s) and any documentation necessary to substantiate the charges.

C.  Copies of receipts for payment of fees and charges.

D.  Correspondence with the requestor.


Request to Inspect or Copy Public Records

Public Records Request Response                              

Calculation of Labor Cost         

Revisions: June 5, 2017 (original); June 2, 2019.

Last Reviewed: June 2019.

References: T.C.A. §§ 10-7-503; 10-7-504; 40-39-202; Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); 49-7-120; 49-7-140 Confidentiality of Gift Records; Policy 500 Access to Education Records.