Effective January 1, 2017, the Massachusetts Public Records Law, G.L. c.66 and c.4, §7(26) provides that a municipality must, within 10 business days (Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays), respond to a request for records by providing access to or a copy of such records, or explaining any delay or denial.
Public Records Law Information. General information about the public records law and public records requests is found in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s, “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, found online at: www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf.
Making Public Records Requests: (Request Form and List of RAOs at bottom of this page)
Public Records Requests. Any person may make a public records request:
a. In person at 380 Great Road. Stow, MA 01775
b. By first class mail addressed to the RAO at the RAO’s business address set forth above; or
c. By e-mail addressed to the RAO at the e-mail address set forth above.
d. By fax addressed to the RAO and sent to 978-897-4534
Written Requests Encouraged - Although not required, it is strongly encouraged that public records requests be in writing to ensure the most efficient and accurate response. All written public records requests, including via email, shall be addressed/directed to an RAO, and should contain the requester’s name and contact information.
Contact Information - Individuals making requests in-person are not required to give their names or contact information. For in-person requests that require additional time for a comprehensive response, requesters will be advised to check in periodically with the RAO or department from which records are sought, or requesters may voluntarily provide contact information. Voluntary Public Records Request Forms are available in all municipal offices.
Specificity of Requests - To facilitate timely responses to public records requests, requests should be as specific as possible, detailing, if known, records custodian(s), and date and subject matter parameters. The more detailed the request, the better the Town will be able to respond. Vague, ambiguous or incomplete requests will make it difficult to efficiently, effectively and accurately respond. Necessarily, it also makes the response process more costly on a time and materials basis. On an as needed basis, the RAO may request additional information to assist in preparing an appropriate and timely response.
Receipt of Requests - Written requests received during normal business hours will be considered received on that date. Written requests sent via email after normal business hours shall not be considered received until the following business day. Business days shall not include Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.
Responses to Public Records Requests:
Response Time – Typically, a complete response to a records request will be provided within 10 business days of its receipt by the RAO. If a full response, including the release of all requested records cannot be made within 10 business days, the RAO or a designee will respond to the requester in writing: explaining the anticipated time frame for completing the response; identifying any requested records that the Town of Stow does not have in its custody; identifying records which the Town of Stow does not expect will be provided, or that will be redacted; specifying the relevant exemption and its application to the requested record or portion thereof; providing a good faith fee estimate; and providing the requester with a statement of appeal rights.
Request for Clarification or Additional Response Time – If the records request in whole or in part is unclear, the requester may be asked to provide more detail. Also, the RAO may ask the requester, or petition the Supervisor of Public Records, for an extension of time to enable the Town of Stow to respond fully to the request.
Public Records Available On-Line – The Town of Stow maintains a searchable website at www.stow-ma.gov where certain public records are available for inspection, downloading or printing. If a requester seeks documents publicly available on the Town’s website, the requester will be directed to the website in satisfaction of the request, unless the requester does not have the ability to receive or access the records in a usable electronic form.
Delivery of Requested Records - To the extent practicable, the RAO or a designee will provide the requested public records electronically in the format preferred by the requester. If the record is not available in electronic form, or the requester does not have the ability to access the records electronically, the records may be picked up in person by the requester or a hard copy mailed to them through the post office. The cost of any request for expedited mailing of records must be paid for in advance.
Applicability of Records Requests - The Town of Stow is only required to provide copies of public records that are in existence at the time of a request; it is not required to create a new record for the purpose of providing written public information in response to a request. Also, the requester cannot reserve the right to have the Town provide copies of public records that may be created in the future.
Answering Questions - The Town of Stow is not required to, but at its discretion may, answer questions in response to a public records request.
Unique Right of Access - Pursuant to the provisions of 950 CMR 32.06(1)(g) , if a requester or requester’s representative (such as an attorney), has “a unique right of access by statutory, regulatory, judicial or other applicable means”, a request for records will not be considered a G.L. c.66, §10 public records request.
Categories of Records:
Municipal Records Retention Schedule - Attachment “A” lists the various Town of Stow departments / boards. You may refer to the Municipal Records Retention Schedule, issued by the Supervisor of Public Records, and found at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcpdf/Municipal_Retention_Schedule_2016... which schedule identifies various categories of records maintained by municipal departments and so-called “records in common”.
Regional School District Records - School-related records are generally maintained by the Nashoba Regional School District for grades K through 12, and requests for such records should typically be directed to the District at the web link: http://www.nrsd.net/staff_directory
Records Exemptions/Redaction/Withholding - Some public records, or portions of records, are statutorily exempt and therefore protected from release to the public. Every request for the release of a public records will be reviewed by the Town of Stow to determine whether any of the requested records are, in whole or in part, exempt from disclosure pursuant to the provisions of G.L. c.4, §7(26), the attorney-client privilege, or other applicable exemptions or common law privileges. For more information about exemptions to the Public Records Law, see the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s, “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, available at www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf.
Reasonable Fees - In some circumstances, the Town of Stow may assess a reasonable fee for the retrieval, production and delivery of public records.
Categories of Permissible Charges - Permissible charges include, but are not limited to:
a. five cents ($0.05) per page of black and white printed copies;
b. actual cost for storage on electronic devices such as CDs or thumb/flash drives;
c. actual cost for duplication of records not reproducible by ordinary means, such as color copies and large format plans;
d. postage fees; and
e. fees for employee time required to satisfy a public records request (see paragraphs 28 and 29) below).
No copying fee will be charged for records provided in electronic form.
Employee Fee Time Charges - A fee may be charged for employee time necessary to identify, locate, retrieve, compile and copy the records requested. A fee may also be charged for employee time necessary to review, and as applicable, separate and/or redact information exempt from public release. The hourly rate charged for such tasks shall be the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee capable of performing the task; provided however, that this hourly rate shall not exceed twenty-five dollars ($25.00) per hour, unless the Town of Stow has obtained the approval of the State Supervisor of Public Records to charge a higher hourly rate. Depending upon the nature of the request, different rates may be charged for different types of work (e.g. a different hourly rate for search time and a different hourly rate for segregation/redaction time).
Small Municipality Exception. As of the 2010 Decennial Census, the Town of Stow had 6,590 residents. See https://www.sec.state.ma.us/census2020/middlesex.htm in accordance with 950 CMR 32.07(2)(m)(2), therefore, the Town of Stow may assess fees for all employee time, including the first two hours.
Records Requests for Commercial Purposes – The fee rate charges established herein may not apply when a request for records is for a commercial purpose as determined by the Commonwealth’s Supervisor of Records.
Petition for Higher Fee - In certain unique circumstances, based on the nature of the request, the Town of Stow may petition the Supervisor of Public Records for permission to assess fees for employee time at a rate in excess of $25.00 if it is determined to be in the interest of the Town to do so .
If a requester wishes to assert a claim that they have been denied access to public records, they may appeal the RAO’s determination to the Supervisor of Records pursuant to 950 CMR 32.08(1). The Supervisor shall make a final determination on the appeal within ten (10) business days of receipt of the claim.
If the requester is dissatisfied with the determination of the Supervisor of Records, the requester may appeal to Superior Court. Alternatively, a requester may bypass the Supervisor and go directly to Superior Court.
For further information on appeals, see the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” January 2017 edition, available at www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf