Selectmen on Tuesday night said the town has received so many public records requests from residents and the local media that it’s starting to impact the ability of town employees to get things done.
The Massachusetts public record law (here for those of you who are interested), allows residents to request copies of any public document or other record. Anything from meeting minutes, to legal bills, to town correspondence, to DVDs of recorded meetings are fair game. If it’s part of the public record, you’re allowed to ask for a copy of it.
But Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday that it takes a significant amount of town resources to comply with some of the records requests. “We make every attempt to comply with Mass General Law, but it has become an ongoing daily task.”
“We’re asking individuals to understand the amount of work required,” Phaneuf said after the meeting. “We’re setting aside the daily operations of the town to deal with this.”
A recently-revised town policy says the town can charge $0.20 per page for copying fees related to records requests. Town Administrator Jean Kitchen said on Tuesday they can also charge the hourly rate of the lowest-paid employee capable of completing the request, but the Metrowest Daily News says that policy conflicts with instructions provided by Secretary of State William Galvin’s office.
Selectman John Rooney said the board will begin listing on their agenda any records requests the town has received. “It’s to keep everything open,” he said.
According to a report compiled by Kitchen, there are two public record requests still pending. Both relate to the recent investigation of town employees. Rooney called each “substantial” in scope.
One request from the Metrowest Daily News seeks copies of legal bills from the investigation. The second, received on Tuesday, came from former selectman Sal Giorlandino. Among other things it asks for copies of minutes from recent Board of Selectmen meetings, along with specific email correspondence between town employees and the board related to reimbursing legal fees.
“We’ve had a slew of public records requests,” Selectman Bill Boland said.
The state public records law gives municipalities 10 business days to respond to requests, but Phaneuf said in many cases it takes longer, in particular when portions of documents need to be redacted because they are not considered part of the public record.
A records request I made on April 29 related to documents from the police chief search was fulfilled on June 2. Some of the documents were heavily redacted.
“Please afford us some patience,” Phaneuf said. “We’re doing the best we can.”