What fees are associated with requesting public documents?
Copies of public records shall be provided at a reasonable fee. If a search is necessary to retrieve the record, the requestor will be responsible for the actual expense of the search.
Upon request, a public agency must provide a a detailed itemization of the costs charged for a search and retrieval.
The following fees apply to any public record in the custody of the state police, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police, or any municipal police department or fire department:
- For preparing and mailing a motor vehicle accident report or a fire insurance report: $5 for the first six pages; 50 cents for each additional page;
- For preparing and mailing crime, incident or miscellaneous reports: $1 per page
What public documents are exempt from Massachusetts’ public access law?
Examples of exemptions under Massachusetts law:
- Most documents that relate to the internal personnel rules and practices of a government unit. This does not include any internal personnel rules and practices of a government unit, which if made available to the public would not affect the agency’s operations
- Personnel and medical files
- Inter-and intra-agency memoranda or letters relating to policy being developed. This does not include “reasonably completed” factual studies or reports on which the development of such policy positions has been or may be based
- Personal notebooks and other materials that belong to a public employee but are not maintained as government files or for purposes of the function of a government agency
- Law enforcement materials, which, if disclosed, would compromise an open investigation
- Trade secrets or commercial or financial information provided voluntarily for use in developing policy and upon promise of confidentiality. This does not include commercial or financial information submitted as required by law or as a condition of receiving a government contract or other benefit
- The names and addresses of any persons contained in, or referred to in, any applications for any licenses to carry or possess firearms
- Contracts for hospitals or related health care services
To read the list of exemptions in its entirety, click here.
Do I need to identify myself or explain why I want a public record when requesting one from a public agency?
- When requesting a public record, you are not required by law to identify yourself, or explain why you would like to view or copy the record.
- The agency from which you are requesting a record is required to provide within 10 days.
To view a sample letter for requesting a public record, click here:
What is the definition of a public record?
A public record includes all documents and data, such as books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, and statistical tabulations, that are made or received by any officer or employee of any public body within the Commonwealth, or by an agency that has been designated to serve a public purpose.
This also includes:
- Internal personnel rules and practices of a government unit that will not affect the “proper” performance of necessary government functions if shared
- Reasonably completed factual studies or reports on which the development of such policy positions has been or may be based
- Commercial or financial information submitted as required by law or as a condition of receiving a government contract or other benefit
To view the list of records that are exempt from public access, click here.
Which government branches are exempted from the public access law? Which ones are included?
- Executive branch
Limited exemption; Records of the governor, mayor, or other chief executive person are generally subject to the act, as are the records of all executive functions, though exceptions may apply to some functions and not others. Letters or memoranda being developed by an executive agency are exempt.
- Legislative branch
- Judicial branch
What public records are available online?
The Massachusetts government provides online access to a number of public records athttp://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/preidx.htm
Some examples include:
What can I do if a public agency refuses to release a document?
If an agency fails to comply with your request to view a record that is public under Massachusetts law, you have the option of appealing.
If your request is more than 10 days and less than 90 days old, you may petition the state’s Supervisor of Records to determine whether the document sought after is public:
Alan N. Cote
Supervisor of Records
Public Records Division
One Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Your letter should include a copy of any written responses you received from the agency who declined your petition, as well as your original request for the document(s).
If the supervisor of records determines that the document is public, he will order the agency to release the document. Should the agency refuse to comply, the supervisor of records may then either notify the state’s attorney general or the appropriate district attorney who will then determine what measures are necessary to enforce compliance with the order.
You may also choose to pursue judicial remedies. The state’s superior court has jurisdiction to order compliance. The burden lies with the public body, not the citizen requesting the record, to prove that the record is exempt from public access.
To view a sample letter for appealing a decision, click here:
For what reasons may a public agency close a meeting?
Under Massachusetts law, all meetings held by a public agency are open to the public with some exceptions. Before a public agency may close a meeting to the public, a majority of its members must vote in favor of holding an executive session.
Below are some, but not all, of the exemptions listed under Massachusetts’ public meetings’ law. To view all of the exemptions, click here.
- A meeting may be closed if members of a public agency intend to discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health–as opposed to the professional competence–of an individual. The individual must be notified in writing by the agency at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, and has the right to request that the meeting be held in open session.
- Meetings during which the discipline or dismissal of a public employee is considered may be closed.
- Discussions of the deployment of security personnel or devices may be held in closed session.
- A meeting may be closed for an agency to investigate charges of criminal misconduct or to discuss the filing of criminal complaints.