Open Records Requests
Please contact the County Clerk at 608-757-5660 or
for more information on this topic or to make an open records request.
Wisconsin’s Open Records Law is contained in ss. 19.31 to 19.39, Stats. Section 19.31, Stats., provides as follows:
Summary of Wisconsin's Open Records Law
19.31 Declaration of policy. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who
represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information. To that end, ss. 19.32 to 19.37 shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.
Section 19.35, Stats., essentially codifies case law and generally requires that a record held by an authority remain open for inspection and copying. Broadly speaking, an "authority" is a state body, local body, or elected official having custody of a record. Further, an authority usually delegates to a named individual the responsibilities of acting as a legal custodian who will respond to requests for access to records. [See ss.
19.32 (1) and 19.33, Stats.]
An authority receiving a record request must either fill the request or notify the requester of the authority’s determination to deny the request in whole or in part, including specific reasons for the denial. Every written denial of a request by an authority must inform the requester that if the request for the record was made in writing, then the determination
to deny the request is subject to review by mandamus or upon application to the
Attorney General or a district attorney. [See s. 19.35 (4) (a) and (b), Stats.]
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a "record"?
A record is any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority in connection with official purpose or function of the agency. A record includes handwritten, typed or
printed documents; maps and charts; photographs, films and tape recordings; computer tapes and printouts, CDs and optical discs; and electronic records and communications.
What is not subject to Wisconsin's Open Records Law?
There are numerous federal and state laws that exempt particular records from disclosure. Common exemptions include:
- Drafts, notes, preliminary documents and similar materials.
- Published material available for sale or at the library.
- Purely personal property with no relation to the office.
- Material with access limited due to copyright, patent or bequest.
- Trade secrets.
- Social security numbers.
- Plans or specifications for state buildings.
- Information obtained for law enforcement purposes, when required by federal law or regulation as a condition to receipt of state aids.
- Computer programs (but the material input and the material produced as the product of
a computer program is subject to the right of inspection and copying).
- Certain employee information.
- Identities of certain applicants for public positions.
- Identifies of law enforcement informants.
- Attorney-client privilege.
For more information on exemptions, see DOJ Compliance Outline [pdf].
Who can make an open records request?
Generally, any person may make an open records request. Wisconsin statutes limit access when the requestor is incarcerated or mentally committed to records that contain specific references to the requestor or his or her minor children. See DOJ Compliance Outline [pdf].
Do I have to identify myself when making the request?
No. Generally the requestor need not identify himself or herself; however, substantive statutes, such as those concerning student records and health records, restrict record access to certain persons. See Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(i)
Am I required to state the reason for my request?
No. A requester is not required to state the purpose of the request.
Can I inspect records?
Yes. Upon request, The Rock County Clerk will make the requested records available to you to inspect.
Can I request copies of records?
Yes. The County will provide copies of open records at the cost of 0.35/page
What is the cost of requesting records?
Rock County charges the actual, necessary and direct costs for copies of records, which are established as follows:
- Location costs. When the cost of locating a record exceed $50.00, the actual, necessary and direct cost of locating the record will be charged. See Wis. Stat. §19.35(3)(c)
- Copying costs. $0.25 per page for the copying of customary and ordinary 8½ by 11 hard copy records. The requestor may request the copying of a large volume of records
on an expedited basis by a bonded copying service in which case, if approved by the
Department, the requestor would pay the rate charged by the service.
- IT costs. The County charges $95.00 per hour for the production of a computer record
which is not in a readily comprehensible form to obtain the information from the
computer database and assemble and reduce such information to written form on paper.
- Mailing costs. The actual, necessary and direct cost of mailing or shipping of copies of records shall be paid by the requestor.
Rock County reserves the right to have record requests paid in advance.
How long until I receive the requested records?
By law, open records must be provided "as soon as practicable and without delay." Wis. Stat. §19.35(4)(a) A reasonable time for response to any specific request depends on the nature of the request, the staff and other resources available to the authority to process the request, the extent of the request, and related considerations. Although the public records law does not require response within any specific time, average record requests are generally available within ten working days.
Can I get electronic records?
Electronic records are subject to the open records law. Computer programs are not subject to the open records law, but records produced as the product of a computer program are subject to inspection and copying. A person cannot require the County to create a new record by extracting and compiling information from existing records in a new format. When information is stored in a database, a person can "within reasonable limits" request a data run to obtain the requested information.