An editor called yesterday to discuss his sunshine request for information about checks written by a public body over the last few months. The response he received from the custodian of records was so wrong in so many ways.
First the custodian said it might take her weeks to get a list made of all these checks, with information about check numbers and amounts and payees. There's no need for the custodian to invest this time in creating this list. (And, frankly, existing case law mandates that the custodian NOT do this task. This is a textbook example of a public body's custodian creating a "record" that doesn't presently exist and the Courts have held that a custodian does NOT have to create a record where one doesn't exist.)
Instead, all the custodian needs to do is to either photocopy the last bank statement, or, if more recent data is requested, photocopy the checkbook ledger or make a copy of the computer data that tracks these checks that have been issued by the body's computer/accounting program. That record DOES presentlly exist and it is "retained" by the body, therefore it is a public record. It doesn't require substantial time to "create" it by the custodian.
And it meets the requirement under the sunshine law, which is the real focus here. Complying with the law isn't hard. It just takes a little clear thinking and a positive attitude that the public body has a duty under the law to provide the public with its own information, since the public pays to create it in the first place.