Public records, however, are open for everyone. You just have to know the right place to go view them.
Barbara Penson, clerk of Floyd County Superior Court, has stockpiles of records that people regularly need at her 3 Government Plaza office in downtown Rome. The most common request is for divorce records.
“For obvious reasons, many people need copies of divorces,” Penson said. “If they reach retirement age, if they need Social Security.”
Penson’s second most popular request is for deed records. Many people use them for genealogy and for real estate purposes. Attorneys are regular visitors to Penson’s office.
Criminal and civil records also are kept by Penson and anyone can view them, as long as they’re not sealed by a judge. Most records aren’t, she said.
“Anybody can come in here anytime they want to,” Penson said. “Mind you, they have to go through security. We try to be as friendly and helpful as we can. We just can’t do the research for them.”
Her office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Penson’s office has three public computers dedicated to civil and criminal searches and four for real estate. Anyone can search an index on the computer and then have one of Penson’s staff find the physical record for them based on the index.
The first 15 minutes of a record search are free, Penson said. It rarely takes longer to find the requested document.
Copies are 50 cents a page, if the person requesting the document makes the copy. It’s $1 a page if a staff member makes the copy, Penson said.
All the money goes to Floyd County, she added.
Many records aren’t held at the county courthouse. For those searching for Rome city records, the clerk’s office in City Hall, 601 Broad St., is the place to go.
Be sure to know what you’re looking for before you make the trip. City Clerk Joe Smith said a majority of people looking for records usually want birth certificates, marriage licenses and police records. Those aren’t found in his office, but instead are at the Floyd County Health Department, the county’s Probate Court or the Law Enforcement Center, respectively.
“Documents pertaining to the City Commission are pretty far down on the list,” Smith said of records often requested.
Smith’s records include the minutes from committee meetings such as the Alcohol Control Commission, the City Commission minutes, business licenses and contracts.
Smith said he wants to make requesting public records as simple as he can. He said he could have people put their request in writing, though he only does that if someone is asking for many documents.
Someone can get their documents for free if it’s 10 pages or less. Smith charges 10 cents a page for requests of more than 10 pages.
The clerk also can charge for the time it takes to find the record, though Smith’s office operates under the same Georgia Sunshine Law that Penson does. The first 15 minutes of the search are free.
It’s rare for one of Smith’s employees to take more than 15 minutes to find any particular record, because the request typically isn’t lengthy, he said.
Requests to Smith’s offices are few, he said. One reason might be that commission meetings are recorded and broadcast on the city’s library channel.
However, Smith has gotten some odd requests. The strangest are for business licenses that are decades old, he said.