Helping Hand? Make it a Handshake First to Ensure a Summary Report Fulfills Pending Document Requests
A number of municipalities have considered the issue, under the Washington Public Record Act, Chapter 42.56 RCW, whether a public agency may create a new, summary of requested document(s) instead of providing the underlying documents actually requested. Apparently as a result of advice delivered at a recent seminar, some agencies believe they have the unilateral option to substitute a summary report instead of the requested source documents.
But without an advance agreement or understanding (preferably confirmed in letter or other writing) with the requestor to substitute a summary report, the agency may end up being in violation of the PRA and subject to penalties. The offer to create a summary (e.g., a compilation of financial information in contrast to the underlying records) may save the agency time and be much more helpful to the requestor. However, creating a new document does not respond to a request for existing records. Therefore, the better practice is to obtain the agreement of the requestor – in advance – that the summary report created in response to the request will fulfill that pending document request.
Note further, an agency has no obligation under the PRA to provide information or to produce new documents. The PRA only requires the production for inspection and copying (if copies requested) of existing documents. See, Bonamy v. City of Seattle, 92 Wn. App. 403, 409 (1998); Smith v. Okanogan County, 100 Wn. App. 7 (2000).