Southborough dealing with a ‘slew’ of public records requests

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.”

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Read This
13 years ago

No, Bonnie Phaneuf, you are not doing the best you can. Or, even worse, maybe you are. I’m not buying the “burden on the Town” canard. If our so-called leaders weren’t so interested in covering their tails and would just knock it off with all the redacting, it might be a simple matter of making a few photocopies.

Susan, a perfect example is the document you requested. The report of the Badgequest firm regarding the Police Chief candidates is a quintessential public record, bought and paid for with my tax money and yours. This was a report about candidates for a job who freely subjected themselves to a process known to them well in advance. Just because Jane Moran’s scores were horrible doesn’t make it a private document.

I continue to be amazed and angry by the ugly waste of time and money our BOS costs us. John Rooney’s election was merely step 1.


Al Hamilton
13 years ago

I am afraid that there is a sense in town govt that “These rules don’t really apply to us” I have made 3 requests in the last year.

One was run through the Aldo black ink machine and was delivered about 10 days late. Part of that request was for copies of all correspondence, emails or communications related to the Marty incident. I was told there were none……

One was ignored.

One consisted primarily of my emails requesting a meeting with the committee established to study the 3-4 school issue. A copy of the report and 1/2 a page of a spreadsheet.

There seems to be an attitude that the public really should not be poking its nose into the workings of the Town or Schools. Unfortunately if you do you might not like the smell.

carrie alpert
13 years ago

ok, so if it becomes and “ongoing daily task” then you can hire someone with OUR money to do the task that your office help cannot handle with the burdensome amount of work they seem to have to muddle through but yet just cannot seem to tackle.

RT is on the money: Rooney’s win was just step 1: the tide has turned and people who are normally not involved or phased ARE. There is discourse, lots and lots of discourse. Abhorrent behavior is not being tolerated and those who are exhibiting the behavior are at a loss.

Love the attitude that the public should not be snouting around in the towns biz–we are the town, all of us. If you pay taxes you are a member of the town, if you want information you should be able to access it.

mike fuce
13 years ago

Good job Al. Keep trying. You are right. All the boards get this attitude that the “little people” (recent BP CEO comment) should not be requesting truth from its elected people. Unforntunately, throughout histroy, it is evident, most people run for public office, even non-paid or low paying positions, to facilitate a benefit to themselves or their group – not to the people as a whole they are sworn to represent and their best interests. We see this in every area of life; politics, work, even children’s sports don’t we. Keep plugging. I am hoping with the addition of Mr. Rooney to the BOS and Mr. Cimino on the Planning Board that things will improve. They are trustworthy and they both seem to be men of integrity and want to represent us well. I think we should elect some new members to the School Committes in town as well. Not that they are bad people on the contrary they seem to be very well educated and professional but they just seem to be in line with unfunded state and federal mandates, teacher unions benefits as well as pay raises et… We can stand up to the fed and state laws that come down if we are brave. Look at Bobby Jindal in LA., Jan Brewer in AZ and Michelle Bachman of MI as very good examples. If folks in Southboro are willing to stand up to the unions this next time around, fire under performing or non performing teachers, hold pay for 5 years, cut benefits to match public sector, in the contract negotiations, we can make positive change. There are many well educated and worthy professionals in town who are looking for work that could back fill any potential strike threatened by teachers unions. The BOS and School Committee needs to have a back up plan now (do you hear that I kwow you all read this blog) becasue you know the parents don’t want their precious gateway to college interupted. We love our teachers but have the utmost of disdane for the unions who actually at the end of the day work against we who pay their salaries and benefits. Keep it up Al. Hopefully they don’t investigate you and then stonewall me when I ask for public information through FOIA.

Alan Palmer
13 years ago

Will everyone let it go. You all sound like your in the first grade. And Rooney is not the answer. You are all giving him phrase but the first thing he did is raise fees. It’s another Mit Romney. Rooney will get your money.

Read This
13 years ago
Reply to  Alan Palmer

So what IS the answer, Alan Palmer?

carrie alpert
13 years ago

I do not believe that any such person is saying that a particular individual is the holy grail but rather that the injection of a fresh approach is starting to show its effects.

and by the way, my soon to be 2nd grader sounds more intelligent brainstorming with her friends than a lot of adults, or rather so called adults i often overhear or even better yet–banter with.

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