College to update its public information request policy
By Julius Williams
The college has recently begun the process of updating its Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) policy. The act specifies the process by which information can be requested from a public institution.
The primary purpose of the Act is to allow the public access to public records, according to information from Kansas State Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office. It applies to all of Kansas’ public agencies or organizations that act on the behalf of public agencies. Although similar in content to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), KORA applies only to public organizations within the state of Kansas.
Joe Sopcich, executive vice president of Administrative Services, said his office handles all public information requests and is charged with the responsibility of bringing the college’s policy up to date.
“This is something that we do periodically,” said Sopcich. “We looked at some of the other public institutions and realized that our policy was out-of-date.”
Although the process of requesting records is fairly straightforward, fulfilling that request can be a daunting task.
The request for public information is a one-page form. Once the administrative office receives that request, it has three business days to contact the person who made the request and acknowledge that the request has been received. Kansas law does not specify a deadline to fulfill the request, but Sopcich said that his office works diligently to fulfill the requests in a timely manner.
However, “timely” could have a broad definition depending on the type of information requested. Although many of the college’s records can be easily accessed by computer, some of that information contains federally protected private information such as personnel files or medical records.
The work of pulling the electronic data falls to Administrative Computer Services. The process of pulling data from those systems can be time consuming, said Sandra Warner, director of Administrative Computer Services.
“Accuracy is really critical,” said Warner. “We are asked to go back in time and restore data. That means rebuilding the system to get to that date.”
Warner said that the department has general processes by which they can pull data from the system. But each information request is dependent on the nature of the data and/or the time period in question. That makes fulfilling each request unique every time.
“The systems are all very dynamic,” said Warner. “There are millions of messages that go through the [email] server. It creates a challenge.”
Once her department has pulled all of the data, the information is forwarded to the college’s in-house counsel to edit for privacy.
The name for the process by which those records are sanitized for privacy is called redaction. Redacted files have the familiar black, text-concealing lines that fans of espionage movies have seen before.
In order to gather information while protecting private information, the college may have to enlist several departments: legal, human resources and information technology as well as third party consultants. Those costs can add up, so the college decided that an update to the policy was in order. According to Sopcich, the changes are not substantive and constitute general “housekeeping.”
“The last time we did this was 10 years ago, so it was time,” Sopcich said.
The college has never denied a request for information although federal and state laws do allow several exemptions and exclusions for certain types of information.
Changes to the policy will also be reviewed by the college’s general counsel, Tanya Wilson. Wilson declined comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
Once the policy has been updated it will go to the Board of Trustees for review. Don Weiss, chairman of the board of trustees, said that although it was not formally on the agenda, board members would be addressing the issue as soon as the recommendations were finalized.
Contact Julius Williams, staff reporter, at email@example.com.