The Massachusetts Public Records Law, found at Chapter 66, Section 10 of the Massachusetts General Laws, applies to records made or received by a Massachusetts governmental entity. Unless the requested records fall under an exemption to the Law, the responsive documents must be made available to the requester. A list of exemptions may be found at Chapter 4, Section 7(26) of the Massachusetts General Laws.
On June 3, 2016, Governor Baker signed An Act to Improve Public Records into law. Many of the provisions in the new law took effect on January 1, 2017. Under the new provisions, agencies and municipalities are required to designate one or more Records Access Officer (RAO).
The RAO has a duty to:
- Coordinate the agency’s or municipality’s response to requests for access to public records.
- Assist individuals seeking public records in identifying the records requested.
- Assist the custodian of records in preserving public records.
- Prepare guidelines that enable requesters to make informed requests.
Public Records Law Information: General information about the public records law and public records requests is found in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s, “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, found online at: www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf.
Requests Encouraged to be in Writing: Although not required, it is strongly encouraged that public records requests be in writing to ensure the most efficient and accurate response. All written public records requests, including via email and facsimile, shall be addressed/directed to an RAO, and contain the requester’s name and contact information, so that the RAO is able to provide the required response.
Contact Information: Individuals making in-person requests will not be requested or required to give their names or contact information. For in-person requests that require additional time for a comprehensive response, requesters will be advised to check in periodically with the RAO or department from which records are sought, or requesters may voluntarily provide contact information.
Specificity of Requests: To facilitate timely responses to public records requests, requests should be as specific as possible, detailing, if known, records custodian(s), and date and subject matter parameters. The more specific the request, the better able the town will be to respond, as broad requests often require more extensive staff efforts to locate, review and copy all possibly responsive records.
Receipt of Requests: Written requests received during normal business hours will be considered received on that date. Written requests sent via email or facsimile after normal business hours shall not be considered received until the following business day. Business days shall not include Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.
Purpose of Request: The RAO will not ask a requester to identify the purpose of the request, but may ask for more information to assist the requester to make an appropriate request and/or to enable the RAO to respond more efficiently.
Anyone may request records directly to the RAO. The Law does not require any specific format for making a request, but this Sample Public Records Request (PDF) may be helpful.
Responses to Public Records Requests
Fees: If fees will be assessed, a written estimate of the same will be provided to the Requester.
Response if Longer than 10 Days or Denial in Whole or in Part: If a full response, including provision of records, cannot be made within 10 business days of receipt of the request, the RAO or designee will respond to the requester in writing: explaining the anticipated time frame for complete response; identifying any records that the Town of Plainville does not have in its custody; identifying records which the Town of Plainville does not expect will be provided, or that will be redacted, specifying the relevant exemption(s) and application thereof to the requested record or portion thereof; providing a good faith fee estimate; and including a statement of appeal rights.
Clarification of Request: Depending upon the scope of the request, the requester may be asked to clarify the request, provide more specific detail, and/or agree to a voluntary extension of time for the Town of Plainville to respond fully to the request.
Time for Response: Typically, a complete response will be provided within 25 business days of receipt of the request. If, due to the scope of the request, the need for redactions, or other complications, the Town of Plainville is concerned that it will not be able to provide a complete response within that time frame, the Town of Plainville may ask the requester for an extension of time to comply or petition the State Supervisor of Public Records for additional time.
Electronic Records Delivery Preference: To the extent feasible, the RAO or designee will provide public records in response to a request by electronic means, unless the record is not available electronically or the requester does not have the ability to receive or access the records electronically. To the extent available and feasible, the RAO will provide an electronic record in the requester’s preferred format.
Request for Records to be Mailed: Should a requester seek to have responsive records provided by mail, the requester will be charged the actual cost of postage, using the least expensive form of mailing possible, unless the requester requests, and agrees to pay for, an expedited form of mailing and such fees are paid in advance.
Creation of Records: The Town of Plainville is only required to provide records that are in existence at the time of a request and is not required to create a new record to accommodate a specific request.
Answering Questions: The Town of Plainville is not required to answer questions in response to a public records request.
Supplementing Responses: The Town of Plainville is not required to supplement its response to a previous public records request in the event that responsive records are created in the future.
Unique Right of Access: Pursuant to the provisions of 950 CMR 32.06(1)(g), if a requester or requester’s representative (such as an attorney), has “a unique right of access by statutory, regulatory, judicial or other applicable means”, a request for records will not be considered a G.L. c.66, §10 public records request.
As of January 1, 2017, the Records Access Officer (RAO) must provide public records to a requester in an electronic format unless the record is not available in an electronic format or the requestor does not have the ability to receive or access the records in a useable electronic format.
Additionally, as of January 1, 2017, agency RAOs will be required to provide on a searchable website electronic copies of commonly requested records, including: final opinions, annual reports, minutes of open meetings and agency budgets. Municipal RAOs will also be required to post commonly requested records on their municipal websites, to the extent feasible.
Exemptions/Redaction/Withholding: Some public records, or portions of records, may not be provided in response to a public records request because the Town of Plainville has determined such records to be exempt from disclosure pursuant to the provisions of G.L. c.4, §7(26), the attorney-client privilege, or other applicable exemptions or common law privileges. For more information about exemptions to the Public Records Law, see the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s, “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, available at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf.
Reasonable Fees: In some circumstances, the Town of Plainville may assess a reasonable fee for the production of public records.
Categories of Permissible Charges: Permissible charges include, but are not limited to:
- five cents ($0.05) per page of black and white printouts or copies;
- actual cost for storage devices or materials such as CDs or thumb/flash drives;
- actual cost for duplication of records not susceptible to ordinary means of reproduction, such as color copies and large format plans;
- postage fees (where applicable); and
- fees for employee time required to satisfy a public records request.
Employee Time for Locating and Segregating Records: A fee may be charged for employee time necessary to identify, locate, and compile the records requested. A fee may also be charged for employee time necessary to review, and, as applicable, segregate and/or redact information exempt from public disclosure. The hourly rate for such fees shall be the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee capable of performing the task, provided, however, that this hourly rate shall not exceed twenty-five dollars ($25.00) per hour, unless the Town of Plainville has obtained the approval of the State Supervisor of Public Records to charge a higher hourly rate. Depending upon the nature of the request, different rates may be charged for different types of work (i.e., a different hourly rate for search time and a different hourly rate for segregation/redaction time).
Requests for Commercial Purposes: Said fee limitations may not apply when a request for records is for a commercial purpose as determined by the State’s Supervisor of Records.
Petition for Higher Fee: In certain circumstances, the Town of Plainville may petition the State Supervisor of Public Records for permission to assess fees for employee time at a rate in excess of $25.00.
If a requester wishes to assert a claim that they have been denied access to public records, they may appeal the RAO’s determination to the State Supervisor of Records pursuant to 950 CMR 32.08 (2). The Supervisor shall make a final determination on the appeal within ten (10) business days of receipt.
If the requester is dissatisfied with the determination of the State Supervisor of Records, the requester may appeal to Superior Court. Alternatively, a requester may bypass the Supervisor and go directly to Superior Court.
For further information on appeals, see the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, available at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf.