Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Know your records

Man, I can remember going to the mall back in the 1980s. Sure, there were the young ladies, the book stores, and the record stores. I spent a lot of time there, digging through the huge bins of vinyl records, looking for the awesome music that would be perfect for the soundtrack of my angst-filled teen life.

Oh, my precious vinyl...
Then, there are records of another variety. The highest score in a football game. The lowest temperature ever recorded. Some records, like the long-jump record set by Bob Beamon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, stand for an incredible amount of time. In fact, his world record stood until 1991, and he still holds the Olympic record by a long distance.

Bob Beamon with his record-breaking jump in 1968
And, then there are other kinds of records. If you work for a government agency, you know they are known as public records. Other agencies may be required to make public financial records or other documents - this varies from state to state and country to country.

If you have anything to do with medical issues here in the United States, you are no doubt aware of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which restricts the type of information that can be released to the public. Thus, as a PIO on the scene of a crash or other incident, you are limited in releasing names of victims and types of injuries.

Here in Florida, we are also very familiar with Chapter 119 of the state statutes, the chapter which deals with public records.  While no one outside of the legal beagles in your attorney's office will be expected to know all of the ins and outs of the law and pertinent legal rulings, it pays to have a general idea of what the statute encompasses.

Believe me, there will be citizens and reporters who will understand how the system works. I have seen government employees fail to turn over simple sign-in sheets to a reporter or interested citizen, only to end up the subject of an in-depth story with questions about their 'evasiveness' when approached for the records.

As a public information officer, it's our duty to not play lawyer, but to help brief staff members on what the laws are for your jurisdiction and to provide clear, concise instructions on what to do should someone ask for records.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but believe me, this is part of the role of trusted advisor you have signed on for. You might as well do your best!

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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