SPR Bulletin 02-92

TO: Public Records Custodians
SUBJECT: Requirement to Maintain Minutes of Meetings in Written Format
EXPIRATION DATE: Until superseded
PURPOSE: This bulletin provides guidance and requirements for the creation, management, and retention of minutes of the meetings of governmental bodies.

Minutes of the meetings of governmental bodies constitute an invaluable record of the formulation and implementation of public policy and the conduct of the public's business generally. Because of their importance, all minutes of governmental bodies have been designated as permanent records by the Supervisor of Public Records for local government records, and by the Records Conservation Board for records of state governmental bodies (pursuant to G. L. c. 66, § 8, and c. 30, § 42, respectively).

Increasingly, governmental bodies are producing audio and/or video recordings of their meetings. This is a good and sound practice. Recordings of meetings are a valuable aide memoir for the creation of the final minutes of the meetings. Many recording media are not durable and not appropriate for long-term storage of data.

These media are extremely susceptible to the effects of heat and humidity with distortion of the medium and potential data loss at temperatures above 125*F (such temperatures can be reached in a closed, parked car in the summer) and at moisture levels in excess of 50% r.h. Environmental contaminants, routine handling, and magnetic field generators (computers, high-speed motors such as those in elevators, etc.) can result in data loss. Magnetic media deteriorate rapidly and must be recopied at 5 to 10 year intervals.

It is crucial that a complete, accurate, and durable record be created of these meetings, and that records are protected and preserved permanently. Therefore, to ensure their preservation, the Supervisor of Public Records requires that the minutes of governmental bodies be recorded in written format using specified paper and inks. See G. L. c. 66, § 56 (mandating the retention of written meeting minutes and noting which items must be reflected in such minutes); G. L. c. 66, § 34 (requiring the use of rag or bond paper and state approved ink).

1. Minutes of the meetings of governmental bodies must be created in written format using specified paper and inks. See G. L. c. 66, § 34; Executive Order 293 (mandating the use of permanent paper for executive branch records and publications of enduring value).

2. Once the minutes have been written and accepted by the board or commission, audio recording medium used to prepare minutes may be erased or rerecorded without the prior permission of the Supervisor of Public Records for local government records, or the Records Conservation Board for state agency records of the state (pursuant to G. L. c. 66, § 8, and c. 30, § 42, respectively), provided that there is no outstanding public records request or litigation involving the tapes.

3. All meeting records, whether existing in the form of stenographic or longhand notes, or audio or video format, are public records at the moment of their creation. See G. L. c. 4, § 7(26) (defining "public records" to include all data in whatever form made by public officials). Therefore, meeting records, with the exception of executive session records, are subject to mandatory disclosure upon request. See G. L. c. 30A, § 22(c) (providing that minutes of executive sessions are not subject to immediate mandatory disclosure).

Questions regarding access to public records should be directed to:

Public Records Division
1 Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108
Phone 617-727-2832
Fax 617-727-5914
Email pre@sec.state.ma.us

Questions regarding this bulletin should be directed to:

Records Management Unit
Massachusetts State Archives at Columbia Point
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Phone 617-727-2816
Fax 617-288-8429
Email recman@sec.state.ma.us