Guide for Members of Public Boards and Commissions: Chapter 9

Ensure that you operate in compliance with the Massachusetts public records law.

Table of Contents

Correctly Retain All Public Records as a Public Board Member

The public records law is another way citizens may examine whether their government is functioning in accordance with its public policy objectives and in compliance with the law. The law supports transparency of the decision-making process and promotes the accountably of public employees, public boards and government officials to the taxpayers.

The public records law requires that you retain certain records for a period of time, and that you turn over certain records if a member of the public requests them – when they contain content related to your official capacity. This is true even if the records are on your personal computer, personal cell phone or personal email account.

All public boards receive and generate public records in the regular course of business. You also generate public records when you operate in your official capacity as a public board member. If you communicate with another individual in your official capacity or exchange information about matters under your board’s purview, for instance, you may create a public record even if you use your personal email, voicemail or video recording to transmit that information.

The law defines the term “record” very broadly, and it includes more than written meeting minutes or agendas.

A common misunderstanding exists that communications on personal email accounts or via text messages are not subject to the public records law. This is incorrect as all board-related communications are subject to public disclosure.

Records can include emails, photographs, voicemails, video tapes, attendance lists and public meeting sign-in sheets. These records are subject to public records requests, and you may be required to keep these documents for a certain period of time.

Check with your public organization and the Secretary of the Commonwealth to determine the full scope of your record retention obligations.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth's office provides record retention schedules for state, county and local governmental entities. For more information on the state’s public records law, please contact the Public Records Division at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office at (617) 727-2832The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office has also developed a free, comprehensive guide to the public records law. The guide, titled A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law, is available on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website. See Appendix A.

Ask Important Questions

  • Does your board have a written policy or a practice related to managing public records requests?
  • Do public board members respond to inquiries about board matters made by the public in a manner that is consistent with this policy?
  • Does your board have an appointed Records Access Officer?
  • Does your board have a practice related to the use of personal devices or emails?
  • Does your board have a written records retention policy?

Additional Resources

Contact   for Guide for Members of Public Boards and Commissions: Chapter 9

Date published: February 1, 2022
Image credits:  Shutterstock

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