The Act imposes a search obligation upon an agency in receipt of a request under the Act but the obligation is limited. “The legislature did not intend for a custodian of public records to comb through his files in search of documents sought by a public citizen. To the contrary, all that is required of a public records custodian is that he provide reasonable access to the files that are sought.” Felker v. Lukemire, 267 Ga. 296, 298–99, 477 S.E.2d 23, 25 (1996). See, e.g., Griffin Indus., Inc. v. Ga. Dep't of Agric., 313 Ga. App. 69, 74, 720 S.E.2d 212, 216 (2011)(given evidence that agency “did not maintain the purported e-mails on its system and would have to extract them from backup tapes using a laborious compilation process, the information sought … ‘was not an existing public record, and non-disclosure thereof did not violate the Act.’). See also Schick v. Bd. of Regents, 334 Ga. App. 425, 429, 779 S.E.2d 452, 456 (2015) (indicating that late production of records, if material and willful, may justify award of attorney’s fees).
“Each request for access to a public record shall be acted upon as soon as possible, but not later than the end of the third business day following the date that the request is received. If access to the public record is not granted immediately, the custodian shall give a detailed explanation of the cause for further delay and the place and earliest time and date that the record will be available for inspection. If the request for access is denied, the custodian shall provide, upon request, a written statement of the grounds for denial. Such statement shall cite the specific provision of law under which access is denied and shall be furnished to the requester not later than the end of the third business day following the date that the request for the statement is received.”
The statute provides a very strong statement in support of access to public records:
Recognizing that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, the intent of the legislature in enacting the Inspection of Public Records Act is to ensure, and it is declared to be the public policy of this state, that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees. It is the further intent of the legislature, and it is declared to be the public policy of this state, that to provide persons with such information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officers and employees.
A governmental body “must make a good faith effort to relate a request to information held by it.” Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD 561 (1990). The Act does not require governmental bodies to prepare new information in response to a request, nor does it require them to inform a requestor if relevant information comes into existence after the request is made. SeeA & T Consultants, Inc., 904 S.W.2d at 676 (reviewing statutory predecessor); Fish v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 31 S.W.3d 678, 681 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2000, pet. denied); Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD 452 (1986). The Act also explicitly provides that “an officer for public information or the officer’s agent is not required to perform general research within the reference and research archives and holdings of state libraries.” Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.227.
Governmental bodies may ask the requestor to clarify a request for information, and may discuss with the requestor how the scope of a request might be narrowed if there is a large amount of relevant information. Id. § 552.222(b).
Once located, responsive public information must be produced “promptly,” unless the governmental body believes an exception to disclosure applies. Id. § 662.221(a). Governmental bodies may take a reasonable time to produce information, but may not delay. See Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD 467 (1987). What constitutes a reasonable amount of time will vary case by case, depending on the nature of the request and volume of information at issue. See id.