How to file an open records request

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.  So don’t take this as legal advice.  But filing an open records request is pretty straightforward and, since it may be helpful for you to get info from your local government gang, here are a couple examples of some language that’ll work.

Mr/Ms Official type person –

By this email, I am making an open records request (Wis. Stat. Sec. 19.35) for a copy of the [whatever you’re requesting].  I understand the document is readily available and can promptly be provided in response to this request.  If the document cannot be provided by Date, please let me know immediately, so we can discuss alternative arrangements.

You can email or fax the document to my attention at this email or the fax number listed below.  I also can arrange to have the document picked up at County offices.

here’s a fancier one…



Mr. ___________

Certified Mail Article Number: _____________________________

Dear Mr. _______:

1)    This letter is to request the following records, under the state’s Open Records Law (19.31-39, Wisconsin Statutes):

2)    All public records in your possession for the Conditional Use application named ________. I am aware that you may not be able to copy 11×17” pages. If that is the case, you may copy sections of these pages and I will piece them together.

3)    I specifically remind you to include any public records related to the changes made by ______ to their Conditional Permit application dated ________.

4)    Please specifically answer this question. When and to whom did ___________or their agents, contact employees of the Buffalo County Zoning Department.? As you may be aware, their application, the subject of the Public Hearing on _______ , 2012, specifically stated that they planned to haul ___ truckloads of sand, Monday through Friday, to the south on ______. At the hearing, however, those in attendance were informed by their agent that they needed to haul ___ loads every day, seven days a week, and 24 hours each day.

5)    Also please answer this question: When and how (telephone, email, in writing or verbally) were the members of the Board of Adjustment informed of the changes to the _______ permit? I am requesting any and all public records of any communications between the Buffalo County Zoning Department and members of the Buffalo County Board of Adjustment concerning these permit changes.

Please be aware that the Open Records law defines “record” to include information that is maintained on paper as well as electronically, such as data files and unprinted emails. Wis. Stat. § 19.32(2).

Please also be aware that the Open Records law “shall be construed in every instance with the presumption of complete public access consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of access generally is contrary to the public interest and only in exceptional cases can access be denied.”

If you deny my request, the law requires you to do so in writing and state what part of the law you believe entitles you to deny my request. Wis. Stat. § 19.35(4)(a).

The Open Records law states that you may charge for “the actual, necessary and direct cost” of locating records, if this exceeds $50, and for photocopies.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice advises that copying fees under the Open Records law should be “around 15 cents per page and that anything in excess of 25 cents may be suspect.”

Please advise me before processing this request if the total cost will exceed $100.

As you know, the law requires you to respond to this request “as soon as practicable and without delay.”

If you are not the records custodian for this information, please forward this request to the appropriate person. Also, please let me know if I can clarify or refine this request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


your name and address

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