Montana law defines a public record as "any paper, correspondence, form, book, photograph, microfilm, magnetic tape, computer storage media, map, drawing or other document, including all copies thereof, regardless of physical form or characteristics" that has been created or received by a state agency or local government "in connection with the transaction of official business and preserved for informational value or as evidence of a transaction." It includes "all other records or documents required by law to be filed with or kept" by a state agency or local government, including school districts. (2-6-202, MCA, 2-6-401, MCA)
The 2001 Legislature expanded the definition of a public record to include electronic mail, or e-mail, "sent or received in connection with the transaction of official business." For more information about managing e-mail, see E-Mail Guidelines: A Management Guide for the Retention of E-Mail Records for Montana State Government.
Records are indispensable to the efficient and economical operation of government. They serve as the governmental memory; they are the evidence of past events and the basis for future actions. When created, maintained, and disposed of in a systematic and orderly fashion, records are a tremendous asset.
Not every piece of paper generated in the course of doing government business is a public record that must be preserved. Telephone messages, routing slips, and preliminary drafts are examples of documents that do not need to be retained. General Records Retention Schedule 9 provides a detailed list of documents that are not considered public records.
Some government records, such as adoption files and personnel records, are confidential and may not be accessed by the public.
More information about what constitutes a public record is available from the Records Management Division of the Secretary of State's Office. Feel free to call us at (406) 444-9000.