SPR Bulletin 02-17

TO: Entities subject to the Public Records Law
SUBJECT: Designation of Records Access Officers
EXPIRATION DATE: Until superseded
PURPOSE: This bulletin defines the term Records Access Officer as used in the Public Records Law.

BACKGROUND:

The Public Records Law and its Public Access Regulations (Regulations) were updated with changes effective January 1, 2017. Among other things, the updated law requires agencies and municipalities to designate a “Records Access Officer (RAO).”

FINDINGS:

1. In the Regulations, a “Custodian” is now defined as “[a]ny governmental entity that makes or receives public records.” 950 CMR 32.02.

2. A “Records Access Officer” is defined as:

The employee designated within a governmental entity to perform duties described in 950 CMR 32.00 including coordinating a response to requests for access to public records, assisting individuals seeking public records in identifying the records requested, and preparing guidelines that enable requesters to make informed requests regarding the availability of such public records electronically or otherwise. 950 CMR 32.02.

3. “Agency” is defined as:

Any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth that is identified in M.G.L. c. 66, § 6A and c. 4, § 7, clause Twenty-sixth and makes or receives “public records”, as defined in 950 CMR 32.02. Agency includes 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 M.G.L. c. 32, § 1. 950 CMR 32.02.

4. “Municipality” is defined as:

Cities and towns, local housing, redevelopment or similar authorities. A consortium, consolidation or combination of entities within a single political subdivision of the commonwealth or among multiple political subdivisions of the commonwealth shall be deemed a municipality. 950 CMR 32.02.

ACTIONS:

1. Each agency and municipality shall post in a conspicuous location at its offices and on its website, if any, the name, title, business address, business telephone number, and business email address of each RAO. G.L. c. 66, § 6A(c).

2. An RAO 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. G.L. c. 66, § 6A(b).

3. The RAO shall, to the extent feasible, provide the public record in the requestor’s preferred format or, in the absence of a preferred format, in a searchable, machine readable format. G.L. c. 66, § 6A(d).

4. The designation of one or more RAOs shall not be construed to prohibit employees who have been previously authorized to make public records or information available to the public from continuing to do so. G.L. c. 66, § 6A(c).

5. RAOs shall assist the custodian of records in preserving public records in accordance with all applicable laws, rules, regulations and schedules. G.L. c. 66, § 6A(b)(ii).

6. RAOs for agencies only are required to report to the Secretary certain information pertaining to requests for public records. This information includes, among other things, the nature of the request, the date of the request and response, the amount of fees assessed, and information regarding the use of administrative and judicial remedies. This reporting requirement does not apply to municipal RAOs. See G.L. c. 66, § 6A(e); 950 CMR 32.05(1) (indicating the reporting requirements “shall apply only to agency records access officers”).

Agency RAOs must report this information by using an online form provided on the Secretary’s website. This website will serve as the form prescribed by the Secretary to accomplish this task as required by G.L. c. 66 § 6A(e).

Agency RAOs may complete the online form using the following link: www.sec.state.ma.us/AgencyRAOWeb/RAOAccounts/Welcome.aspx

Using the above link, agencies will have the choice to enter information about each public records request individually or upload information about multiple public records requests at once through a batch upload. Additional information, including a template for formatting request data for a batch upload, is available from the Public Records Division.

Questions regarding access to public records should be directed to:
Public Records Division
One Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108
Phone 617-727-2832
Fax 617-727-5914
Email pre@sec.state.ma.us
www.sec.state.ma.us/pre