Westport Community Schools

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Frequently Asked Questions about Records Requests

Frequently Asked Questions
 
What is a public record?

"Public records'' shall mean all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose, or any person, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity which receives or expends public funds for the payment or administration of pensions for any current or former employees of the commonwealth or any political subdivision as defined in section 1 of chapter 32.

What are the exemptions to the Public Record Law?

The statutory definition of “public records” contains exemptions providing the basis for withholding records completely or in part. The exemptions are strictly and narrowly construed. Where exempt information is intertwined with non-exempt information, the non-exempt portions are subject to disclosure once the exempt portions are deleted. A review of the appropriate applications of the exemptions follows.

  (a) specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure by statute;

  (b) related solely to internal personnel rules and practices of the government unit, provided however, that such records shall be withheld only to the extent that proper performance of necessary governmental functions requires such withholding;

  (c) personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;

  (d) inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters relating to policy positions being developed by the agency; but this subclause shall not apply to reasonably completed factual studies or reports on which the development of such policy positions has been or may be based;

  (e) notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit;

  (f) investigatory materials necessarily compiled out of the public view by law enforcement or other investigatory officials the disclosure of which materials would probably so prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement that such disclosure would not be in the public interest;

  (g) trade secrets or commercial or financial information voluntarily provided to an agency for use in developing governmental policy and upon a promise of confidentiality; but this subclause shall not apply to information submitted as required by law or as a condition of receiving a governmental contract or other benefit;

  (h) proposals and bids to enter into any contract or agreement until the time for the opening of bids in the case of proposals or bids to be opened publicly, and until the time for the receipt of bids or proposals has expired in all other cases; and inter-agency or intra-agency communications made in connection with an evaluation process for reviewing bids or proposals, prior to a decision to enter into negotiations with or to award a contract to, a particular person;

  (i) appraisals of real property acquired or to be acquired until (1) a final agreement is entered into; or (2) any litigation relative to such appraisal has been terminated; or (3) the time within which to commence such litigation has expired;

  (j) the names and addresses of any persons contained in, or referred to in, any applications for any licenses to carry or possess firearms issued pursuant to chapter one hundred and forty or any firearms identification cards issued pursuant to said chapter one hundred and forty and the names and addresses on sales or transfers of any firearms, rifles, shotguns, or machine guns or ammunition therefor, as defined in said chapter one hundred and forty and the names and addresses on said licenses or cards;

[ There is no subclause (k).]

  (l) questions and answers, scoring keys and sheets and other materials used to develop, administer or score a test, examination or assessment instrument; provided, however, that such materials are intended to be used for another test, examination or assessment instrument;

  (m) contracts for hospital or related health care services between (i) any hospital, clinic or other health care facility operated by a unit of state, county or municipal government and (ii) a health maintenance organization arrangement approved under chapter one hundred and seventy-six I, a nonprofit hospital service corporation or medical service corporation organized pursuant to chapter one hundred and seventy-six A and chapter one hundred and seventy-six B, respectively, a health insurance corporation licensed under chapter one hundred and seventy-five or any legal entity that is self insured and provides health care benefits to its employees.

[ Subclause (n) of the first paragraph of clause Twenty-sixth effective until January 1, 2017. For text effective January 1, 2017, see below.]

  (n) records, including, but not limited to, blueprints, plans, policies, procedures and schematic drawings, which relate to internal layout and structural elements, security measures, emergency preparedness, threat or vulnerability assessments, or any other records relating to the security or safety of persons or buildings, structures, facilities, utilities, transportation or other infrastructure located within the commonwealth, the disclosure of which, in the reasonable judgment of the record custodian, subject to review by the supervisor of public records under subsection (b) of section 10 of chapter 66, is likely to jeopardize public safety.

[ Subclause (n) of the first paragraph of clause Twenty-sixth as amended by 2016, 121, Secs. 1 to 3 effective January 1, 2017. See 2016, 121, Sec. 22. For text effective until January 1, 2017, see above.]

  (n) records, including, but not limited to, blueprints, plans, policies, procedures and schematic drawings, which relate to internal layout and structural elements, security measures, emergency preparedness, threat or vulnerability assessments, or any other records relating to the security or safety of persons or buildings, structures, facilities, utilities, transportation, cyber security or other infrastructure located within the commonwealth, the disclosure of which, in the reasonable judgment of the record custodian, subject to review by the supervisor of public records under subsection (c) of section 10 of chapter 66, is likely to jeopardize public safety or cyber security.

[ Subclauses (o) and (p) of the first paragraph of clause Twenty-sixth effective until January 1, 2017. For text effective January 1, 2017, see below.]

  (o) the home address and home telephone number of an employee of the judicial branch, an unelected employee of the general court, an agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of a political subdivision thereof or of an authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose, in the custody of a government agency which maintains records identifying persons as falling within those categories; provided that the information may be disclosed to an employee organization under chapter 150E, a nonprofit organization for retired public employees under chapter 180, or a criminal justice agency as defined in section 167 of chapter 6.

  (p) the name, home address and home telephone number of a family member of a commonwealth employee, contained in a record in the custody of a government agency which maintains records identifying persons as falling within the categories listed in subclause (o).

[ Subclauses (o) and (p) of the first paragraph of clause Twenty-sixth as amended by 2016, 121, Sec. 4 effective January 1, 2017. See 2016, 121, Sec. 22. For text effective until January 1, 2017, see above.]

  (o) the home address, personal email address and home telephone number of an employee of the judicial branch, an unelected employee of the general court, an agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of a political subdivision thereof or of an authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose, in the custody of a government agency which maintains records identifying persons as falling within those categories; provided that the information may be disclosed to an employee organization under chapter 150E, a nonprofit organization for retired public employees under chapter 180, or a criminal justice agency as defined in section 167 of chapter 6.

  (p) the name, home address, personal email address and home telephone number of a family member of a commonwealth employee, contained in a record in the custody of a government agency which maintains records identifying persons as falling within the categories listed in subclause (o).

  (q) Adoption contact information and indices therefore of the adoption contact registry established by section 31 of chapter 46.

  (r) Information and records acquired under chapter 18C by the office of the child advocate.

  (s) trade secrets or confidential, competitively-sensitive or other proprietary information provided in the course of activities conducted by a governmental body as an energy supplier under a license granted by the department of public utilities pursuant to section 1F of chapter 164, in the course of activities conducted as a municipal aggregator under section 134 of said chapter 164 or in the course of activities conducted by a cooperative consisting of governmental entities organized pursuant to section 136 of said chapter 164, when such governmental body, municipal aggregator or cooperative determines that such disclosure will adversely affect its ability to conduct business in relation to other entities making, selling or distributing electric power and energy; provided, however, that this subclause shall not exempt a public entity from disclosure required of a private entity so licensed.

  (t) statements filed under section 20C of chapter 32.

  (u) trade secrets or other proprietary information of the University of Massachusetts, including trade secrets or proprietary information provided to the University by research sponsors or private concerns.

 Changes to the new act now include the following exemptions:

Chapter 66, Section 10B

Section 10B: Records divulging name, home or email address and phone number; persons who own, possess or have license to carry firearms; government personnel

The home address, personal email address and home telephone number of law enforcement, judicial, prosecutorial, department of youth services, department of children and families, department of correction and any other public safety and criminal justice system personnel, and of unelected general court personnel, shall not be public records in the custody of the employers of such personnel or the public employee retirement administration commission or any retirement board established under chapter 32 and shall not be disclosed, but such information may be disclosed to an employee organization under chapter 150E, a nonprofit organization for retired public employees under chapter 180 or to criminal justice agencies as defined in said section 167 of said chapter 6. The name, home address, telephone number and personal email address of a family member of any such personnel shall not be public records in the custody of the employers of the foregoing persons or the public employee retirement administration commission or any retirement board established under chapter 32 and shall not be disclosed. The home address, telephone number, personal email address or place of employment or education of victims of adjudicated crimes, of victims of domestic violence and of persons providing or training in family planning services and the name, home address, telephone number, personal email address or place of employment or education of a family member of any of the foregoing shall not be public records in the custody of a government agency which maintains records identifying such persons as falling within such categories and shall not be disclosed.

 

What is a Records Access Officer (RAO)?
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.
 
A records access officer shall coordinate an agency’s or a municipality’s response to requests for access to public records and shall facilitate the resolution of such requests by the timely and thorough production of public records. Each records access officer shall:
            (i)  assist persons seeking public records to identify the records sought;
            (ii)  assist the custodian of records in preserving public records in accordance with all applicable laws, rules, regulations and schedules; and
            (iii)  prepare guidelines that enable a person seeking access to public records in the custody of the agency or municipality to make informed requests regarding the availability of such public records electronically or otherwise.
 
What is the timeframe I should expect for a response?
 Section 10.  (a) A records access officer appointed pursuant to section 6A, or a designee, shall at reasonable times and without unreasonable delay permit inspection or furnish a copy of any public record as defined in clause twenty-sixth of section 7 of chapter 4, or any segregable portion of a public record, not later than 10 business days following the receipt of the request, provided that:
            (i)  the request reasonably describes the public record sought;
            (ii)  the public record is within the possession, custody or control of the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves; and
            (iii)  the records access officer receives payment of a reasonable fee as set forth in subsection (d).
      A request for public records may be delivered to the records access officer by hand or via first class mail at the record officer’s business address, or via electronic mail to the address posted by the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves.
      (b)  If the agency or municipality does not intend to permit inspection or furnish a copy of a requested record, or the magnitude or difficulty of the request, or  of multiple requests from the same requestor, unduly burdens the other responsibilities of the agency or municipality such that the agency or municipality is unable to do so within the timeframe established in subsection (a), the agency or municipality shall inform the requestor in writing not later than 10 business days  after the initial receipt of  the request for public records. The written response shall be made via first class or electronic mail and shall:
            (i)  confirm receipt of the request;
            (ii)  identify any public records or categories of public records sought that are not within the possession, custody, or control of the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves;
            (iii)  identify the agency or municipality that may be in possession, custody or control of the public record sought, if known;
            (iv)  identify any records, categories of records or portions of records that the agency or municipality intends to withhold, and provide the specific reasons for such withholding, including the specific exemption or exemptions upon which the withholding is based, provided that nothing in the written response shall limit an agency’s or municipality’s ability to redact or withhold information in accordance with state or federal law;
            (v)  identify any public records, categories of records, or portions of records that the agency or municipality intends to produce, and provide a detailed statement describing why the magnitude or difficulty of the request unduly burdens the other responsibilities of the agency or municipality and therefore requires additional time to produce the public records sought;
            (vi)  identify a reasonable timeframe in which the agency or municipality shall produce the public records sought; provided, that for an agency, the timeframe shall not exceed 15 business days following the initial receipt of the request for public records and for a municipality the timeframe shall not exceed 25  business days following the initial receipt of the request for public records;  and provided further, that the requestor may voluntarily agree to a response date beyond the timeframes set forth herein;
            (vii)  suggest a reasonable modification of the scope of the request or offer to assist the  requestor to modify the scope of the request  if doing so would enable the agency or municipality to produce records sought more efficiently and affordably;
            (viii)  include an itemized, good faith estimate of any fees that may be charged to produce the records; and
            (ix)  include a statement informing the requestor of the right of appeal to the supervisor of records under subsection (a) of section 10A and the right to seek judicial review of an unfavorable decision by commencing a civil action in the superior court under subsection (c) of section 10A.
 
Will I be charged for my request(s)?
If a municipality is required to devote more than 2 hours of employee time to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a record requested, the records access officer may include as part of the fee an hourly rate equal to or less than the hourly rate attributed to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill required to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce the record requested but the fee (A) shall not be more than $25 per hour unless such rate is approved by the supervisor of records under clause (iv); (B) shall not be assessed for the first  2 hours of work performed where the responding municipality has a population of over  20,000 people; and (C) shall not be assessed for time spent segregating or redacting records unless such segregation or redaction is required by law or approved by the supervisor of records under clause (iv);
            (iv)  the supervisor of records may approve a petition from an agency or municipality to charge for time spent segregating or redacting, or a petition from a municipality to charge in excess of $25 per hour, if the supervisor of records determines that (A) the request is for a commercial purpose; or (B) the fee represents an actual and good faith representation by the agency or municipality to comply with the request, the fee is necessary such that the request could not have been prudently completed without the redaction, segregation or fee in excess of $25 per hour and the amount of the fee is reasonable and the fee is not designed to limit, deter or prevent access to requested public records; provided, however, that:
                  1.  in making a determination regarding any such petition, the supervisor of records shall consider the public interest served by limiting the cost of public access to the records, the financial ability of the requestor to pay the additional or increased fees and any other relevant extenuating circumstances;
                  2.  an agency or municipality, upon submitting a petition under this clause, shall furnish a copy of the petition to the requestor;
                  3.  the supervisor of records shall issue a written determination with findings regarding any such petition within  5 business days following receipt of the petition by the supervisor of public records; and
                  4.  the supervisor of records shall provide the determination to the agency or municipality and the requestor and shall inform the requestor of the right to seek judicial review of an unfavorable decision by commencing a civil action in the superior court;
            (v)  the records access officer may waive or reduce the amount of any fee charged under this subsection upon a showing that disclosure of a requested record is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor, or upon a showing that the requestor lacks the financial ability to pay the full amount of the reasonable fee;
            (vi)  the records access officer may deny public records requests from a requester who has failed to compensate the agency or municipality for previously produced public records;
            (vii)  the records access officer shall provide a written notification to the requester detailing the reasons behind the denial, including an itemized list of any balances attributed to previously produced records;
            (viii)  a records access officer may not require the requester to specify the purpose for a request, except to determine whether the records are requested for a commercial purpose or whether to grant a request for a fee waiver; and
            (ix)  as used in this section “commercial purpose” shall mean the sale or resale of any portion of the public record or the use of information from the public record to advance the requester's strategic business interests in a manner that the requester can reasonably expect to make a profit, and shall not include gathering or reporting news or gathering information to promote citizen oversight or further the understanding of the operation or activities of government or for academic, scientific, journalistic or public research or education
      (e)  A records access officer shall not charge a fee for a public record unless the records access officer responded to the requestor within 10 business days under subsection (b).
      (f)  As used in this section, “employee time” means time required by employees or necessary vendors, including outside legal counsel, technology and payroll consultants or others as needed by the municipality.
 
What can I do if I have a problem, question, or need to appeal a response?
The Public Records Division determines whether or not a record is exempt from public access. For more information, please contact:
William Francis Galvin
Secretary of the Commonwealth
Public Records Division
One Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
617-727-2832 Telephone
617-727-5914 Fax
www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/preidx.htm