Oct 7, 2022 - News

How to file a public records request in North Carolina

Illustration of the acronym FOIA with an eye that's looking around and blinking standing in for the O.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Public records are documents, data, photos or recordings kept by a government agency.

  • You — the taxpayer — have a right to look at or get copies of those records (with some exceptions, like documents related to an ongoing criminal investigation).

As a journalist, my favorite records to request include: public officials' emails, calendars and call logs and disciplinary records.

  • This information helps me keep an eye on what politicians and the government are spending time and money on.

Making a request for public records may seem a little intimidating, but it's rather simple.

  • First, I find the email of the custodian in charge of keeping and maintaining the records I want. Within state agencies, this is usually easy to find. (Here's the public records request portal for UNC-Chapel Hill, for example.)
  • If I'm requesting records from a smaller office or a lawmaker, I usually seek out someone with a public-facing role, like an assistant or a spokesperson.
  • Then I write an email that usually starts with "Hello, Under North Carolina public records law, I'm writing to request copies of any emails sent to or from UNC System Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that include the key words 'legislature' or 'budget' sent or received between June 1 and June 30."

Be smart: If for some reason an agency is unable to copy records, or it costs too much to do so, you can request to inspect the records. You just won't be able to take them home with you.

For a quick primer on the state records law and language to include in your request, check out the National Freedom of Information Coalition.


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