PIA Requests & the Importance of Statistics
The Public Information Act is one of the most important tools we have to ensure government accountability and transparency. When you make an information request, you need to be very specific about what documents you’re requesting.
Do some research ahead of time; find out what kind of statistics are kept and how the city’s database is organized.
You can call and ask a city employee how information is logged. Once you know that, think about what relates most directly to your issue and think backwards from your ultimate goal. The city may even have already compiled the information you’re seeking into internal reports; ask for those!
If you ask for a mountain of paper, the city could turn around and saddle you with exorbitant photocopying costs, take a long time to process your request, or give you what you asked for – boxes and boxes of information that you can’t possibly wade through.
Other details that could derail you: Be sure to fill out your contact information legibly and correctly. Address your request to the “Officer for Public Information” and clearly label all correspondence “Public Information Request.”
And remember, statistics can be very tedious and technical. Once you have the information, put it in easy-to-understand terms. Phrase statements in terms that your average person will get. For example, you can say your district has twice the amount of dropouts as the other ISDs in the state, has the worst record on prenatal care, or that twice as much money per person is spent on protecting the environment in a neighboring town and they have cleaner air and water to show for it. These are the kinds of statements that move people to action.
Take a look at this quick video on how to make a Public Information Act or PIA request as they’re often called.
The city must respond within 10 days. They may send what you requested, contact you for more information, request payment, or say they need more time to fill your request. If your request is ignored, then you should report it to the Open Government Hotline at (877) 673-6839 and file a complaint with your district attorney.