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EDITORIAL: Records-law update a win for public’s right to know


The long-awaited revisions to the state’s public-records law went into effect at the start of the new year, and now we must see whether these user-friendly changes actually work as planned.

It’s hard to fathom that in this bastion of liberal thought it would take 40 years for Massachusetts to finally catch up with the rest of the country when it comes to accessing information from public entities like municipalities and state agencies. But on too many occasions, those seeking information, from individuals to news organizations, have been frustrated by toothless, archaic laws interpreted subjectively, designed to thwart the public’s right to know. From charging outrageous fees to ignoring requests, government has kept a lid on every citizens’ basic right by discouraging legitimate inquiries.

To be fair, not all the problems can be attributed to callous public servants. Many communities in the past didn’t provide the basics necessary for employees to fulfill the everyday requests they received. With the new law, that should change. Now, municipalities are required to designate one or more people a Records Access Officer (RAO), and the contact information for that individual must be posted on the municipality’s website.

These updates, as well as changes in response times, fees charged, and the greater availability of electronic records, should expedite the process and hopefully eliminate the adversarial climate that existed previously.

That seems to be consensus of those public officials contacted by The Sun. From Lowell to Leominster, they all felt confident in their ability to meet any and all inquiries. That may not always have been the case in the past.

“We’ve been pretty good with responding to requests in the past, so I don’t think there will be a huge impact,” Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori said. “We’ve done training and developed guidelines that have to be in place.” Other municipal officials shared that sentiment. “It should be a pretty smooth adjustment,” agreed Chelmsford Assistant Town Clerk Patricia Dzuris. “There’s talk of an uptick in requests, so we want to make sure we stay on top of that.”

Chelmsford’s assistant town clerk raises a valid point. There’s likely to be an increase in requests for information, simply due to the novelty of this updated public-records law. We’d advise those seeking information not to clog the system with frivolous matters. There’s likely to be more than a few flaws to overcome at the outset, which only will be complicated by a flood of activity.

It’s our hope that the news media, which represent and defend the public’s right to know, will now be able to go about their business free of the restraints that have compromised their efforts previously.

If that’s the case, then our state’s records will indeed be public.