Some records more public than others

A recent incident where our procedure for access to public records was questioned made me aware of the need to at least attempt to give you an overview of how this process works.

People hear of the “Freedom of Information Act” or “Open Records Act” and assume that this means that they can come in to the county clerk’s office and immediately have access to records, look at anything that is recorded there, or browse around and see what they can find.

Well, it doesn’t exactly work that way.

For example, there are more than 50 exceptions to the required public disclosure of records listed in the Public Information Act.

In fact, most of the information excepted from public disclosure may not be released even if the county wanted to release it.

Information usually considered private includes facts about a person’s private affairs such as medical matters, marriage, procreation, and family relations.

The Public Information Act requires that any request for information be in writing and that if necessary we have up to 10 days (and under certain conditions even more time) to deliver the information.

There are procedures that we are required to follow and restrictions that must be imposed, so it’s no wonder that sometimes the public gets upset with us when we have to be the one to impose these constraints.

A birth record is public information after the 75th anniversary of the date of death and a death record, after the 25th. anniversary of the date of death of the person. However, since the older records are intermingled with the more recent records in our Milam County files, our file room cannot be open and browsed by the public.

Therefore, in our county clerk’s office, all birth and death records are closed to public access.

Only immediate family members can obtain information and must request information by name from the clerk at the front desk.

The record may be observed free of charge and a copy of a death certificate may be obtained for $21 and a birth certificate for $23.

The situation is different with the deed records. These are open to the public and are regularly accessed directly by researchers.

In fact, currently, the deed records room is a busy place with all the research activity going on due to the oil leasing that is taking place in Milam County.

Copies are $1 per page. County clerk staff members are available to assist citizens that are unfamiliar with how to use these files. Deed records from 1983 to date are also computerized and can be researched through the computer system at the county clerk’s office. Users may now go to indexjsp and access these records on line from your office or from home.

There is a charge of $1 per page for printed copies using this system as well. Interestingly enough, the probate and guardianship records are considered public records and are available along with the civil case and misdemeanor criminal record files.

Hopefully this explanation will make it a little clearer as to which records are “open” and which ones are ”not so open” to the public.

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2012-05-10 digital edition

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