Public Records Request Policy

I. Purpose

The University of North Carolina at Asheville will be responsive to public records requests while at the same time striving to maintain the confidentiality of certain records as required by law. This policy shall be implemented in accordance with the North Carolina Public Records Act and other applicable federal and state laws. This Policy complies with the North Carolina Attorney General’s North Carolina Guide to Open Government and Public Records.

II. Scope

This policy applies to all University employees who, in the course of their employment or duties on behalf of the University, have access to public records.

III. Policy

A. Public Records Defined

All records created or received in the course of public business by the University or its employees, in whatever format, including paper, photographs, recordings, computer records and emails, constitute public records, unless an exception applies.

B. Process for Requesting Public Records

Various state and federal laws provide for the confidentiality of certain records. These include, but are not limited to, FERPA, HIPAA, the State Human Resources Act and the Public Records Act itself. Therefore, persons who seek to access the public records of the University should direct a written request to the University General Counsel. If the requestor cannot or will not reduce an oral request to writing, then the University General Counsel will reduce the request to writing and will obtain the requestor’s verbal agreement to the accuracy of the writing before proceeding further.

C. Common Record Requests

Although not an exhaustive listing, the following sets forth general guidelines with regard to the most common types of public records requests where release of University records may be restricted based on other laws, regulations or policies.

1. Personnel records

An employee’s personnel records are confidential in accordance with the NC Personnel Records Act, except the following information is public about every employee:

  • name;
  • age;
  • date of original employment or appointment to State service;
  • the terms of any contract by which the employee is employed by the University, past and current, written or oral (to the extent the University has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession);
  • current position;
  • current title;
  • current salary (including pay, benefits, incentives and deferred comp);
  • date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary with the University;
  • date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation or other change in position classification with the University;
  • date and general description of the reasons for each promotion with the University;
  • date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the University (if the disciplinary action was dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal shall be available); and
  • office or station to which the employee is currently assigned.

2. Medical and Counseling Records

State confidentiality laws and HIPAA require that medical and counseling records be kept confidential, subject to very few exceptions.

3. Student Education Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restricts the information that may be released about students.

4. Miscellaneous Confidential Records

  • patent applications and other documents that contain trade secrets;
  • certain criminal investigation and law enforcement records;
  • minutes of closed meetings under the NC Open Meetings Act;
  • personally identifiable admissions information;
  • Social Security numbers;
  • emergency response plans;
  • public security plans; and
  • detailed drawings of University buildings and infrastructure.

D. University Response to Records Requests

The University must permit inspection of the requested records as promptly as possible after receiving the public records request. The University may also provide copies of the requested documents, subject to the provisions on copying costs below. Access to public records may be limited to reasonable times during regular business hours and under reasonable supervision. The University must separate out or redact any confidential information from otherwise accessible public records prior to public inspection or release of requested records.

E. Costs for Copies, Materials and Mailing and Special Service Fee for Extensive Requests

1. Non-Extensive Requests (four hours or less)

If responding to a  request for public records will require four or fewer personnel hours, the University may charge only for the actual costs of making copies ($.05 per page), materials used, (e.g. DVDs, CDs, other electronic media, mailing supplies, etc.) and postage.. However, the University generally will not apply these types of charges unless the cumulative total exceeds twenty five dollars ($25.00).

2. Extensive Requests (more than four hours)

The University considers more than four (4) hours of information technology, clerical or supervisory employee personnel time as constituting extensive assistance. If responding to the request will involve extensive assistance, the University considers the request extensive and may charge a special service fee of $25 per hour. The special service fee shall be based on the actual hours of labor required to respond to the request above and beyond the first four (4) hours (which remain free). In addition, the University may charge for copying ($.05 per page), materials used, and postage when those cumulative costs exceed twenty-five dollars ($25.00).

The University shall estimate the total cost of responding to such extensive requests in writing prior to making the documents and/or information available and allow the requester the option of either agreeing in writing to pay the total cost or revising the request to narrow its nature or scope.  Payment of the cost estimate is expected prior to any work being performed on the request. If the agreed upon estimate results in a deposit higher than the actual labor, mailing, materials and copying costs required to answer the request, the University shall refund that portion of the unused deposit to the requester along with the requested records.  If the records custodian determines during processing that the cost estimate agreed to was too low, the custodian will contact the requester to explain the situation.  The requester can then choose to rescind or modify the request, or provide additional cost estimate funds to cover additional labor required to process the request.   Once additional cost estimate funds are received, work would then continue on the request (if not previously modified).  After legal review, publicly-available records and information responsive to the request will then be submitted to the requester.

Multiple requests within a short period of time from the same individual or the same organization will be considered a single request for purposes of determining costs.

F. Enforcement

Any violation of this policy by faculty or staff may be considered “misconduct” under EHRA policies (faculty and EHRA non-faculty) and “unacceptable personal conduct” under SHRA policies, including any appeal rights stated therein. Violations of law, under certain circumstances, may also be referred for criminal or civil prosecution.

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