Mayor Signs New Transparency in Government Law, But Says Framingham Council’s Reason For Law is ‘Not Fairly Based’

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FRAMINGHAM – On Thursday, Mayor Yvonne Spicer signed the City Council’s new open & transparent government policy into law.

“I am approving the ordinance as proposed as more fully described below. I do believe it is important to offer a few comments to place this discussion into context. At the outset, we can all agree that transparency is important. The City responds to thousands of public records requests a year and routinely updates the city website, issues press releases, and conducts community outreach, dialogues and meetings with residents and stakeholders to further this important objective. However, the Council’s reasoning for enacting this ordinance is not fairly based on the actual day-to-day experience of the public in obtaining public records in the City of Framingham,” wrote Spicer to the City Council Chair and the other 10 Council members.

The 11-member City Council voted 10-1 on May 4 and unanimously on May 18 to adopt the policy. Mayor Spicer signed it into law on June 3.

The policy states that “Framingham is committed to open and participatory government. The City aims to improve transparency through increased physical and electronic access to public information. Massachusetts law protects the right to access public information and has long mandated government disclosure of records. The City fulfills this responsibility to citizens by proactively posting commonly requested documents to its website and by providing timely access to or copies of public records upon request. The City will work diligently to be responsive to the spirit, intent, and content of public record requests in a timely manner. Credentialed media should only be directed to the public records process as a last resort.”

The policy also states the City’s “The Municipal Bulletin Board should be simple and direct, focused on the user experience. It should utilize best practices, modern equipment, and current techniques to make information readily accessible in-person or online. In addition to items required by law, all multiple-member bodies, departments, divisions or offices of the City shall make every effort to proactively post items of interest or potential interest of residents, clusters of residents, or neighborhoods.”

“Based on documentation maintained by the City public records requests, for the most part, are responded to promptly, often in far less than the 10 business days allowed under the law. There is admittedly a subset of hundreds of anonymous requests made in 2021 alone that are submitted by requestors using fake names that are made at a substantially higher rate than in past years which often seek documents spanning broad time periods, often multiple years, which require many hours to review or which require the submission of good faith estimates because they will take many multiples of the two hours of employee time at no cost permitted under law,” wrote Mayor Spicer.

“These requests are often broadly written and seek thousands of emails or documents, or seek documents that require review and redaction to protect privacy and other interests that we are required to protect from disclosure under law. Our employees are doing the best that they can to comply with these requests, while at the same time juggling multiple day-to-day responsibilities with a lack of time and resources. For these reasons, the ordinance in many respects seeks to solve a public records problem that does not exist, and otherwise just restates existing practices or requirements relative to the City’s public meetings which were never an issue in the first place.”

“Nevertheless, the administration will comply with this ordinance to the extent permitted by the Framingham Home Rule Charter. Where the ordinance is intended to give orders or directions to the City’s municipal officers and employees on the way in which they must respond to public records requests beyond what is already required by the Public Records Law, I again remind the Council that the Charter expressly prohibits these types of directives and mandates to City staff under Article II, Section 3(b), and our employees will continue to observe state law on this issue,” concluded the Mayor in her memo to the City Council yesterday.

The new City law also requires “all licenses issued by the City, including licenses to grow, manufacture, and sell marijuana, and all contracts executed on behalf of the City shall be conspicuously published in a searchable format on the City website.”

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