This Sunshine Week, we are calling on our readers to contact their state legislators to voice their support for a proposed update to the Massachusetts public records law. Everyone knows the MBTA is underfunded and underperforming, but the solution to their funding issue probably shouldn’t be to bilk Fox 25 to the tune of $15,317.00 to forward a few emails. Fox 25 reported the outrageous fee the MBTA imposed in a report calling for the update of the state’s public record law.
By state law , government emails are public records and anyone has the right to obtain copies of them. Public records must be provided for free or with only a reasonable fee to cover the basic costs associated with preparing the records. The $15,317.00 that the MBTA are demanding almost certainly violates records law.
The most outrageous part of the issue is that there will be no real consequence for the MBTA violating the law to cover up its activities. The Massachusetts public records law is so weak and unenforced that agencies all over the Commonwealth are able to disregard it at a whim with no appreciable repercussions. Breaking the public records law is technically a misdemeanor, but none of the agencies that have oversight over the law have shown a willingness to press charges to demand compliance.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin’s office has direct oversight over the public records request appeals process. Galvin’s office so far failed to take any action after Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine refused to comply with an order from the Supervisor of Records. Racine went to the media to brag about his unlawful non-compliance with the order, but even that public slap in the face wasn’t enough to draw any sort of reaction from Galvin’s office over the past two months. If that wasn’t enough, it's pretty clear that nothing is.
The MBTA and every other governmental agency across the Commonwealth can and will continue to keep the records of their activities away from public scrutiny with no consequences until the public records law is fixed.