Public Records: documents made by a government agency which are required to be kept and maintained.

Reporters love them. They form the backbone of many news stories. A reporter’s pay can be based on drumming up stories, so public records are of great value. Watch the newsroom waters churn when juicy public records are thrown in!

Reporters can do a whole story on a public record. Example: A psychiatrist gets his license revoked by the state for having sex with a patient. Oh, that’s a good one — story! Hold the press! Translate the legalese into everyday English, get a couple of comments from participants and it might be on the front page the next day.

Accusations of “fake news” could simply be countered with links to public records: “unnamed sources,” “it was reported,” and “some people say” just can’t compare to the black and white of a mug shot, lawsuit or your mayor’s emails — all public records.

Attorneys love them. They can be a primary source of evidence. As soon as the documents are entered into the court file they become a public record.

Some Legislators hate them, apparently. They’re constantly proposing iron walls to whittle away citizens’ rights to public records. But reporters, attorneys, private investigators do not have a monopoly on public records. There’s a reason they are called “public records.” They are yours. Paid for by your tax dollars.

If you don’t know whether a record exists, just ask the city, county, state or federal agency for it. If a government agency withholds a public record, it is their responsibility to tell you why.

Kenneth Kramer is a private investigator and public records expert.

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