New Massachusetts Law
In 2017 a new public records law went into effect in Massachusetts imposing strict requirements and deadlines on the public records request process. Agencies and municipalities must permit inspection, furnish a copy of a requested public record or deny a request in writing within 10 business days and are required to centralize the process by designating a Records Access Officer (“RAO”). Additional requirements include strict adherence to a list of 18 exemptions when denying a request, providing public records requests to a requester in electronic format, and if a requester prevails in a court action against an agency or municipal RAO, the court may award the requester attorney fees or costs.
The Town of Middleborough was seeking a public records management application that would help them not only comply with the new law but also make the process of responding to records requests more efficient. The Middleborough Town Clerk (and newly designated Records Access Officer) Allison Ferreira, Town Manager, and Information Technology Director evaluated several options and unanimously agreed that NextRequest was the best option and received Town Meeting approval to purchase the NextRequest application.
Compliance and Efficiency
With NextRequest, Middleborough has streamlined the public records request process for both the Town Clerk and all their municipal employees who act as custodians of records as dictated by the Municipal Retention Schedule provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Staff are automatically notified when they are assigned to a request and are reminded about the request as its due date approaches. Ferreira previously needed to track the status of all requests and send out reminders herself - now she trusts that staff are automatically notified when they need to take action. Staff save time by leveraging templates created by Ferreira that cover all common responses to a request, including each of the 18 exemptions.
Ferreira’s already high expectations were exceeded by NextRequest. “It truly has streamlined the process more than I could have ever hoped for,” she says. “Not only does this application allow our staff to be more efficient in responding to requests using NextRequest, but the public is also finding the information they need more easily as well. The phone is ringing less and more people are going to the portal and finding what they need,” says Ferreira. All this has been done without placing a burden on the municipal employees. NextRequest trained 50 Town employees for the Town of Middleborough who all quickly adapted to the new system. “The portal is very easy to use and doesn’t add to our employee’s workload which is important.” says Allison.
Hands on Customer Support
During the period before the Middleborough’s NextRequest portal went live, NextRequest worked closely with Ferreira to customize the system to be compliant with the new Massachusetts public records law and match Middleborough’s existing processes. NextRequest has stayed in close touch with Middleborough to help them get the most out of the software. “We have constant customer support,” say Ferreira. “This is not the case with most vendors, but NextRequest is different.”