Metrowest Daily News reports Southborough failed to respond to public records request (Updated)

by beth on March 12, 2019

On Sunday, Metrowest Daily News ran a story comparing municipal salaries for the region. The paper used the reporting as an exercise for its “Sunshine Week” coverage:

an annual event launched by the American Society of News Editors in 2005 to celebrate public access to government information.

The story reports out on how Towns complied with public records requests. The article claims that out of 21 cities and Towns, Southborough was the worst. The paper writes:

Southborough logged the worst performance. The town did not respond to the Daily News’ requests.

The article doesn’t specify who in our Town government was contacted and how. The paper did detail:

In early February, reporters from the Daily News sent identical requests to 21 cities, towns and regional school districts in MetroWest and the Milford area seeking three types of records: policies for expense reimbursements; documents showing all reimbursements received last year by two top officials — typically the town administrator and school superintendent; and a spreadsheet of municipal salaries.

The Daily News asked that the spreadsheet include the name and job title of each municipal employee, and a breakdown of the forms of compensation the employee earned in 2018, such as base pay and overtime.

Of the 62 public requests filed, only about half were successful, meaning the city or town responded on time and provided the requested records, including detailed payroll information.

The remaining 28 were unsuccessful, though in some instances reporters were able to obtain some or all of the information by following up with town officials by email or by phone.

While Northborough was lauded with “high marks” for its response, the paper called out our shared school district, whose response apparently didn’t thrill. The paper wrote:

But the Northborough-Southborough Public Schools took a different tack, underscoring the wide variety of responses citizens receive to records requests. The school district initially asked the Daily News to pay $450 in order to get a copy of its salary information, estimating it would take 20 hours to search its payroll system to compile the extract the data.

Under the public records law, municipalities with populations over 20,0000 people are now required to provide two hours of work for free, putting the remaining time at 18 hours, at a cost of $25 per hour. (State agencies must provide four hours of work at no cost.)

The school district later provided an 11-page PDF of salary information, though the document was not in machine-readable form, making it harder for an average person to search and analyze the information.

You can read the story via its sister site, Southborough Wicked Local, here.

Updated (3/12/19 3:06 pm): In responding to an email on another topic, Town Clerk Jim Hegarty wrote:

On another note, we’ve received a few inquiries asking why the Clerk’s office didn’t respond to the Metro West request for records. That’s a question for the Town Administrator who is the Records Access Office for the Town and all requests for records, other than what is maintained in the Clerk’s office and by the School Committee, go through Mark Purple. The public can check the status of requests here: https://southboroughtown.nextrequest.com/requests

If anyone wants any records from the Clerk’s office, all they need to do is ask. We don’t require any extra paperwork.

The provided link pulled up 10 closed public records request filed between October and February. None appeared to me to be related to the MWDN story. No open inquiries were listed.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Concerned Voter March 12, 2019 at 9:32 AM

If true that no one responded to a public records request (by any member of the public, news persons included), that may well be a violation of Public Records Law and a reportable offense to Secretary Galvin’s Office. This could also be a violation of other state laws as well. Did this actually happen? Who was the request addressed to? If true, this should be reported to the State.

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2 beth March 12, 2019 at 9:58 AM

Those are questions for the paper. I haven’t personally run into these issues. As I said, the article doesn’t specify who was contacted and how.

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3 beth March 12, 2019 at 2:18 PM

Jim Hegarty emailed me a note to follow up on inquiries he received about why his office didn’t respond to the records request. He responded:

“That’s a question for the Town Administrator who is the Records Access Office for the Town and all requests for records, other than what is maintained in the Clerk’s office and by the School Committee, go through Mark Purple. The public can check the status of requests here: https://southboroughtown.nextrequest.com/requests

If anyone wants any records from the Clerk’s office, all they need to do is ask. We don’t require any extra paperwork.”

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4 Concerned Voter March 12, 2019 at 4:11 PM

No — by law, that is NOT how it is supposed to work at all. The public does not and should not have to make requests to separate individuals — it’s the law. Each municipality has an “RAO” and all requests go through the RAO.

The Records Access Officer “RAO” (in many towns usually the Town Clerk, not the Town Administrator) by law is responsible for responding to ALL public records requests.

The RAO must do a sweep of all public records from all departments. There is no such thing as going to multiple departments with separate or multiple requests. The whole purpose of the law is to make sure that any one requesting records gets a full and accurate response from the RAO.

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5 beth March 13, 2019 at 7:33 AM

The Town has the following posted to its website:

Public Records Access Officers

The Public Records Access Officers for the Town of Southborough are the Town Administrator and/or Assistant Town Administrator. The Public Records Access Officers for the Town of Southborough School Department is the Assistant Superintendent of Schools.

6 beth March 14, 2019 at 7:56 AM

A reader emailed me to rebut the fact that you seem to assert there can only be one designated employee by law.

The reader pointed to the following excerpt from Mass General Law:

G. L. c. 66, §6A
(a) Each agency and municipality shall designate 1 or more employees as records access officers. In a municipality, the municipal clerk, or the clerk’s designees, or any designee of a municipality that the chief executive officer of the municipality may appoint, shall serve as records access officers. For the purposes of this chapter the term “agency” shall mean any entity, other than a municipality, that is identified in clause twenty-sixth of section 7 of chapter 4 as possessing “public records,” as defined therein.

Under (e), it also refers to “Each records access officer of an agency”.

You can check that out here: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleX/Chapter66/Section6A

7 arborist March 12, 2019 at 11:47 AM

Here we go again, Why are our town leaders bucking the system?, What are they trying to hide? Public Info.is Public info. whether they like it or not. If they just told the truth from the beginning There would be a lot less controversy and things would go much better, I just don’t understand it.

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8 Frank Crowell March 12, 2019 at 1:01 PM

I wonder if the data our school district presented is accurate? Maybe I read it wrong, but our superintendent makes 1/3 of what surrounding towns pay their superintendent.

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9 my town sb southborough March 14, 2019 at 9:50 AM

Frank, we also had over $400,000.00 stolen from us under the current Superintendent. Who was minding the store. That doesn’t even qualify as an oversite.

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10 huh? March 18, 2019 at 1:25 PM

maybe oversight?

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11 my town sb southborough March 22, 2019 at 8:52 PM

huh? You are correct. I erred. Obviously you’re more involved with spelling, than the theft of $400,000.00, under the soon to be retired Superintendent. What say you..

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12 Kelly Roney March 24, 2019 at 12:16 PM

Probably the 1/3 amount is due to the fact that we have three school districts – Regional, Northborough K-8, and Southborough K-8, and each pays a third.

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13 my town sb southborough March 13, 2019 at 12:30 PM

With all the problens with transparency here in Southborough, better think twice about creating a Town Manager position. Doesn’t warrant it.

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14 Publius March 14, 2019 at 12:11 AM

Folks realize it takes time and resources to respond to record requests. The law can and is abused.

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15 Concerned Voter March 15, 2019 at 3:52 PM

It certainly is allegedly abused — by those public officials who allegedly do not fully respond and hold back. They know who they are. Those violations are also Public Record Law violations, reportable offenses to the Secretary of State Galvin’s office, as well as State Ethics violations. As for all the problems with transparency, “My Town,” I agree: “Better think twice about creating a Town Manager position. Doesn’t warrant it.”

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