Massachusetts Open Record Law in the News

As a former Mayor I can tell you that information requests under the state Open Records Law can be time consuming to fill, and on occasion require some serious staff time to complete. With that having been said the law requires public officials to respond in a timely fashion to such requests, and you cannot have a system of open government without giving citizens the right to freely access documents generated by government that they pay for.

In Lawrence Valley Patriot owner Tom Duggan has filed a request for a multitude of documents from the City of Lawrence. Duggan has been a major critic of the Mayor of Lawrence, William Lantigua, and the request is likely being viewed by City officials from that vantage point. Duggan has been writing and talking about this for some time, as the request has essentially been ignored by the City of Lawrence for months. He is in court today in an attempt to force compliance under the State Open Records Law.

As much as it pains me to admit it Duggan has it right. It does not matter who files the request, friend or foe, the law must be followed. There is a larger issue than this in Lawrence but that is a story for another day. For today I can say that I am not all that familiar with the penalty portion of the law, but it appears that it should be strengthened, especially for instances of willful disregard. Changes to the law should provide teeth to the enforcement section, especially for cases like this. The law should also provide for the awarding of court costs to the winning party. Citizens, and yes even Tom Duggan, should be able to secure documents covered by the State Open Records Law without having to go to Court.

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