Working in government is more interesting, challenging and groundbreaking than many people realize. You can do work similar what you might do in the private sector, only on a grander scale and with greater impact.
With high retirement rates among municipal employees, and the heightened stress of the pandemic, a severe learning curve has been exposed as new municipal employees take the helm. New municipal employees are joining the field, often with little to no previous experience in the public sector. While this can bring with it new insights, ideas, and strategies, it also means that some crucial details about the basics of government are more likely to be overlooked in the early stages of a new career.
Such oversights appear most frequently when it comes to public records regulations, records retention, ADA compliance, and open meeting laws. The intricacies of these regulations can be difficult to cover in a way that is both brief and comprehensive, and their lack of correlation to the private sector means that there is often very little experience outside of municipal government that can directly correlate to working with these rules for new employees just joining the field.
All of this helps to demonstrate that the best way for newcomers to learn these laws, rules, and regulations is to learn it from someone with experience working across municipalities within these regulations. If no such person is around to offer this resource to new employees, then it is imperative that those with questions seek out those with the experience to answer them. The purpose of these laws is to guarantee the transparency of government and allow the public to both access and understand the decisions that are funded by their tax dollars, thus a working understanding of them is necessary in order to do the job well.
Public records regulations require a deep understanding as full compliance requires constant and vigilant upkeep of paperwork and documents. A guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law can be found here but in the simplest of terms, public records include “all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee’ of any Massachusetts governmental entity.” While exemptions for public records exist (i.e. medical files, personal notebooks, etc.), it is important for municipal organizations to comply with proper record upkeep and management as the unauthorized absence of certain records could lead to complications down the road.
Records Retention to the untrained eye seems very similar to Public Records regulations, retention rules are the second half of a public document’s lifespan. Public Records guidelines dictate which documents enter the public domain, and records retention determines how long documents remain open to the public. Depending on the type of document in question there can be a wide variety of retention schedules. For example, land records are retained permanently, while property appraisals services are kept for 6 years after the final action.
Records retention rules also contain crossover with Open Meeting Requirements, as meeting Notices and Agendas are retained for 1 year, but Meeting Minutes are permanent. Familiarizing oneself with these many specifics takes time and practice. New municipal employees are encouraged to seek out guidance on compliance so that their transition into a new role goes as smoothly as possible. Refreshing oneself with the many exceptions of these rules on a semi-regular basis ensures optimal compliance for a long and healthy career.
“As new and less seasoned municipal employees enter the workforce, they must be exposed to necessary training and guidance related to public records and open meeting requirements," said Jennifer Thompson, a former Town Administrator and the Chief Development Officer at Capital Strategic Solutions. "While somewhat unique and complex, these laws and requirements provide the public with much needed transparency when it comes to government spending and activities. Our job as municipal leaders and mentors is to make sure that the next generation of employees is trained and prepared to properly handle public records and meetings.”
The complexities of municipal government are learned best through experience. With every career transition there is always a learning curve that often involves the more nuanced and specific aspects of the field. Capital Strategic Solutions has over 20 years of experience in Municipal Government and our team can assist any office or department with new transitions and adjustments. Our experience and connections to industry experts can help you and your team succeed. Our team specializes in community outreach, capital planning, and grant management across the state, from cities to towns, big and small. We work industriously so our clients can maximize their success while minimizing their risk on a wide variety of projects. If you or your team have questions schedule a meeting with us!
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-690-0046.