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The Maine Freedom of Access Act (“FOAA”) grants the people of Maine a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens. The act also ensures the accountability of government to its citizens by requiring public access to the meetings of public bodies as well as public records. Transparency and open decision-making are fundamental principles of the Maine Freedom of Access Act, and they are essential to ensuring continued trust and confidence in our government. The City of Biddeford is required to comply with Maine's Freedom of Access Act. A full text of the Act is available through the Maine Legislature's Statues website.
The FOAA defines "public record" as "any written, printed or graphic matter or any mechanical or electronic data compilation from which information can be obtained, directly or after translation into a form susceptible of visual or aural comprehension, that is in the possession or custody of an agency or public official of this State or any of its political subdivisions, or is in the possession or custody of an association, the membership of which is composed exclusively of one or more of any of these entities, and has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business or contains information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business".
There are a number of exceptions to "public records" A number of exceptions are specified. The Act and exceptions can be found on the State of Maine 1 M.R.S. § 402(3).
A FOAA request is a request to obtain a copy of a public record submitted to the government agency's public access officer.
There is no central records office that services Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) requests within the City of Biddeford. There are no forms required nor does the request have to be in writing, however, the City strongly urges that all FOAA requests be in writing (email, fax, letter, etc.) in order to maintain a record of when the request was received, what records were requested, an understanding of the search period, and who requested the document(s). However, in order to evaluate and process a request there must be sufficient information. To assist citizens, a Request for Public Information form (PDF) has been created for convenience.
In order for the City to promptly respond to your request, you should be as specific as possible when describing the records you are seeking. If a particular document is required, it should be identified precisely—preferably by author, date and title. However, a request does not have to be that specific. If you cannot identify a specific record, you should clearly explain the type of records you are seeking, from what time frame, and what subject the records should contain.
For example, assume you want to obtain a list of vendors that the City paid in exchange for goods and services in July of 2016. A request or “all vendor payments” is very broad and would likely produce volumes of records. The fees for such a request would be very high; the City would likely find your request too vague and ask that you make it more specific. On the other hand, a request for “all records of payments to vendors paid by the City in July 2016” is specific and lists the type of record, the purpose of the record, and the time frame. A justification for your request is not required. Although, you might also want to explain what information you hope to learn from the record as this additional explanation may help the City narrow its search and find a record that meets the exact request.
The City's public access officer under FOAA is the City Manager. However, be advised that the City will process all FOAA requests regardless of whether or not the request is submitted directly to the public access officer as long as the request is identifiable as a FOAA request.
Yes. the City must acknowledge receipt of a request within 5 working days of receipt by the City.
Yes. Under Maine's FOAA, the City may request clarification concerning which public record or public records are being requested.
Yes. the City must provide a good faith, nonbinding estimate of how long it will take to comply with the request "within a reasonable period of time" after receiving the request. The City is required to make a good faith effort to fully respond within the given estimated time.
There is no initial fee for submitting a FOAA request and the City cannot charge an individual to inspect records unless the public record cannot be inspected without being compiled or converted. However, the City can and normally does charge for copying records. Although the FOAA does not set standard copying rates, it permits agencies to charge "a reasonable fee to cover the cost of copying".
The City may charge fees for the time spent searching for, retrieving, compiling or redacting confidential information from the requested records. The FOAA authorizes agencies or officials to charge $15 per hour after the first hour of staff time per request. Where conversion of a record is necessary, the agency or official may also charge a fee to cover the actual cost of conversion.
The City must prepare an estimate of the time and cost required to complete a request within a reasonable amount of time of receipt of the request. If the time to prepare is estimated to be greater than 1 hour, the City must notify the requester before proceeding. The City may request payment in advance if the estimated time to complete is estimated to exceed two hours or if the requester has previously failed to pay a fee properly assessed under the FOAA.
A local government entity whose officer or employee commits a willful violation of Maine's FOAA commits a civil violation for which a forfeiture of not more than $500 may be adjudged. Under the current law, there are no criminal penalties for failure to comply with a request for public records.