Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Days: Going Public

Some things should be public, other things should be kept private.

"Most localities fail test on state records law" by Todd Wallack Globe Staff  December 26, 2015

It was probably the largest test ever conducted of how cities and towns in the state respond to requests for government records from average citizens.

And Massachusetts failed.

A solid majority — 58% — of the Commonwealth’s 351 municipalities did not respond within the 10-day limit set by state law when they received a written request for two records that are almost universally considered to be public.

Didn't you know? The state is above the law here. 

And they called it public service!

Nearly a quarter took more than 40 days or never responded at all to one of the requests sent by a Northeastern University journalism class in partnership with the Globe and WCVB-TV.

And more than a dozen outright refused to provide the documents — reports showing how much municipal workers earned last year and “use of force” policies describing when police officers can use their weapons — for legally dubious reasons, such as protecting the privacy of public employees.


Six-figure state employees increase by nearly 25 percent
64 City of Boston workers earn more than $250,000

I can't imagine what they would want to keep $ecret, can you?

Others created obstacles to obtaining the information, such as peppering the students with questions about why they wanted the records — which is frowned on by the secretary of state — or requiring students to pick up documents in person — which violates state regulations. Two dozen communities asked for more than $100 for the payroll report, including Spencer, which demanded $1,440.

“It’s abysmal,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “The data makes it clear that many cities and towns really do not follow the law.”

The poor test results suggest that Massachusetts’ famously weak public records law is matched by equally weak compliance — many government workers seem to take the 10-day legal deadlines for responding as little more than a suggestion rather than a requirement. It's another myth regarding the deep blue state or whatever that isn't true.

In fact, as near as I can figure we are out front on same sex marriage and transgender but that's about it. 

Otherwise, the state tax loot is a trough for pharmaceuticals, Hollywood, GE, and other corporate concerns and interests all around.

And why wouldn’t they? Public officials in Massachusetts face no real penalties for withholding documents or missing deadlines. The attorney general’s office can’t recall a single case in which it has ever prosecuted anyone for violations since the law was passed in 1973.

They used to call that, you know....

Lawmakers are debating legislation to overhaul the statute for the first time in four decades, but it’s unclear how far they will go to strengthen the law because of objections from some government officials and their lobbyists.

House legislators scaled back efforts to make public records more accessible after the Massachusetts Municipal Association complained that the bill would impose costly new responsibilities on cities and towns.

All bull according to previous articles. Florida has no problem with it, etc, etc.

State Senator Jason Lewis, who sponsored an earlier version of the public records bill, said he was disappointed, but not surprised to hear about the students’ experiences. 

I think it was good for the kids. It showed them true government with the ma$k off.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, declined to comment on the findings by the Northeastern students. But Beckwith said it is often difficult for local officials to respond to requests within the current deadline because they have limited staff. “Cities and towns do the best they can with the resources that they have,” said Beckwith.

UNF***ING REAL (excuse my foreign accent)!

The Northeastern audit — conducted by a journalism class taught by Mike Beaudet, an investigative reporter for WCVB-TV (Channel 5) — showed just how difficult it can be to obtain information promptly under the current law.

The class mailed requests to the city or town clerk and police chief for all 351 cities and towns on Oct. 20. In most cases, the students followed up with an e-mail in early November if they didn’t receive an acknowledgment that the request had been received.

God bless 'em.

To simulate how cities and towns would respond to a request from the average citizen, they didn’t say why they were asking for the documents or mention their affiliation with Northeastern. Instead, they rented a post office box and set up a generic e-mail account to track the responses. For consistency, they used the same student’s name — Ben Thompson — on all the letters.

I see a bright future in government intelligence or on Wall Street for the kids.

Under state law, agencies are required to send a meaningful response — such as providing the records, a fee estimate, or a denial — within 10 calendar days. But most cities and towns missed the deadline for one or both requests and some never responded at all.

The government we all know and love. Not there when you needed them, there when you don't want them.

Quincy spokesman Chris Walker said a clerk mistakenly forwarded the Northeastern request for its payroll to the wrong person. Walker promptly provided the information when the Globe asked why the city never responded.


Other officials said they didn’t recall seeing the requests or simply forgot to reply.


“It must have gotten lost in the mail — literally,” acting Danvers Police Chief Patrick Ambrose told the Globe. Ambrose later confirmed that the agency received the follow-up e-mail and belatedly sent the students a copy of the policy.


But in more than a dozen other cases, agencies flatly refused the students’ requests.

Nine police departments, including those in Revere and Shirley, argued that releasing the use of force policies would impede the department’s operations or jeopardize public safety by allowing criminals to learn how they handle incidents.

“I believe that it could present an officer safety issue if the general public knew what type of force an officer would respond with,” Shirley Police Chief Thomas J. Goulden II told the Globe.

That’s despite the fact that other cities, including Boston and Cambridge, post their policies online. And the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association issued an advisory last month saying it believes the policies are required to be released under state law.

“There really is no excuse for agencies to hide use of force policies,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “It doesn’t undermine public safety, it enhances public safety.”

Indeed, almost all the departments reversed their decision to withhold the policies after a reporter asked them about it, including those in Beverly, Leominster, Newburyport, and Revere.

After talking it over they decided it could be bad pre$$, so here. Happy?

Some towns also denied access to reports showing how much their workers were paid last year, even though the information has long been considered public in Massachusetts.

Goshen said it was willing to release job titles, but not names of individual workers. “Given current conditions concerning identity and information theft, the town has a policy of not releasing the name of individual employees,” the town treasurer, Allan Kidston, wrote the students.

Even though they are paid by public dollars?

And the town of Dalton rejected the request altogether, saying the report contained Social Security numbers and other confidential information. 

Don't they edit that out?

However, the law generally requires agencies to disclose the public portions of documents, such as names and salaries. “An individual’s public employment salary is a public record,” according to the secretary of state’s office.

Some other towns offered to provide the payroll records, but only if students paid hundreds of dollars. Spencer demanded $1,440, Acushnet $963, and Carlisle $889.

Alaine Boucher, the accountant in Spencer, justified her demand for a $1,440 fee for payroll records by claiming it would take her 40 hours to compile the data on 237 workers by hand.

Boucher later told the Globe she thought she could create the report for $900 by culling the data from tax forms. “Our payroll is not computerized,” Boucher said. She acknowledged the town’s payroll vendor has the electronic data, but she declined to ask the company for help in producing the report.

Are you getting tired of the endle$$ excu$es yet? 

With all this neglect, where has all the money gone?

Police departments typically charged less for the use of force policies, but some also cited dubious fees.

You start to wonder about them all after a mile.

Milton police wanted $1 per page, double the maximum normally allowed under state rules, while East Brookfield police charged $5 for the first page and $1 for every page after that.

Isn't that profiteering or extortion? 

Making the public pay up for the information they paid for?

And Quincy Police Captain John Dougan first quoted a price of $65.43 for a 14-page policy: 50 cents a page plus his hourly salary of $58.43 “It doesn’t take that long, but we have an hour minimum,” he explained.

Still, after a Globe reporter questioned the fees, Dougan agreed to e-mail the policy to the student for free and said the city will consider posting the policy on its website.

But even some agencies that didn’t charge large fees made it difficult in other ways for the students to obtain the documents, such as refusing to mail or e-mail the documents. Holbrook, for instance, said the student would have to pick up the town’s payroll report in person during office hours and display a “valid ID with picture.”

“We just wanted to make sure the person who requested the information had a legitimate use for it,” said Holbrook Treasurer Paul DiGirolamo.


I thought we all had that right, it being public and all.

And a number of towns declined to provide the records in electronic form — even when it was clear the data was stored on a computer — instead asking students to pay extra for printouts and making the data harder to analyze.

Some towns turned down the requests for other questionable reasons. Aquinnah returned the letter because the student’s name was typed but not signed. And Hingham police said the students didn’t use the department’s own form. But under state rules, any clear written or verbal request for records is supposed to be valid.

Several of the students said they were surprised so many cities and towns refused to provide the documents or demanded to know why they wanted them.

Emily Turner, a graduate student, said: “This is supposed to be public information, so it shouldn’t be an investigation into why we are looking for the information.”

Kind of a scary government there, huh?

Governor wants towns to do better on public records
Governor touts reduced wait times at RMV offices



“It shouldn’t have to take a lawsuit to get information which is rightfully public record,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said Thursday. “This type of transparency is required by law. We should be able to have this transparency without going to court.”

Senate must improve House’s weak public records bill

State Senate unveils records revamp

State Senate should toughen public records law

Senate passes public records bill

"The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday revamping the state’s much-maligned public records law, considered one of the least effective in the country. The vote came after the House late last year passed a version of the bill seen by good government advocates as much weaker. Though the Senate engaged in a passionate back-and-forth on Beacon Hill on Thursday, and several advocates cheered the legislation’s passage, the more profound debate is likely to take place in a secret joint House-Senate conference committee. That group of legislators would hash out differences between the two chambers, probably releasing a final version of the bill in the summer."

You can't see it until then in this sham they call a commonwealth! 

Another chance to get public records reform right

They are out of chances. They could just do the right thing and release the stuff.

That means open war!

"Municipalities of Massachusetts, unite" by Dante Ramos Globe Columnist  February 04, 2016


A town of 120 people can only handle so much on its own, especially now.

Monroe, the second-least populous municipality in Massachusetts, lies along the Vermont border on the far western tip of Franklin County. When you arrive in town, via a winding and ear-poppingly steep road down the hills that cut Monroe off from neighboring Rowe, the first building you see is a decrepit paper mill that shut down 20 years ago after decades of decline.

The structure is in danger of collapse. The taxes on it have gone unpaid for years. In its efforts to deal with the issue, Monroe is getting help from a brownfields program run by the nonprofit Franklin Regional Council of Governments. When town officials have full-time jobs far afield, though, it’s difficult merely to convene everyone who needs to be involved in the decision.

“It’s harder and harder to run these small towns every each year, and yet they still do it,” says Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the regional council, which provides a range of services to 26 communities.

Monroe’s ability to keep operating is a testament to small-town pluck. But as state lawmakers contemplate how much aid to budget for local governments, and how much transparency to require of them, the struggles of smaller municipalities raise an awkward question: At what point is a town no longer viable on its own?

In Monroe, the local sewer infrastructure was built to serve a now-defunct mill, but it still needs repairs. “Parts are breaking. We can’t replace them,” says Marcella Stafford Gore, the town’s part-time administrative assistant, town clerk, and tax collector.

Maybe they could get a piece of the hundreds of millions the state is throwing at GE.

Significant upgrades are underway, thanks in part to federal help. But getting certain grants approved is still difficult: New pumping stations, for instance, benefit only a smattering of people — including some of the public officials approving the proposal. Demonstrating that such a project isn’t a form of self-dealing by the folks in charge takes extra time and paperwork.

“Everybody in this town has a conflict one way or another on everything,” Stafford Gore says.

Massachusetts has 351 municipalities, most of which date back 200 years or more. Before the advent of telephones or automobiles, people needed to have their local government within a short walk or horseback ride away. Outside of Boston, the population used to be distributed rather uniformly around the state.

In the last century, though, most of Eastern Massachusetts experienced explosive growth, even as former farm and mill towns farther west in the state barely grew. Monroe, like Hawley, Hardwick, and Adams, has fewer people now than in 1920.

In municipal government, as in the broader economy, the pressures of the modern era reward economies of scale. Proposition 2½ constrains the ability of towns to raise taxes. Spiraling employee health care costs have crowded out other expenses. Federal and state money comes with justifiable, but ever more elaborate, reporting requirements; electronic systems ease compliance but require upfront investment and ongoing maintenance.

One recent flashpoint is the state’s anemic public records law. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents city and town governments, opposes certain proposed reforms as yet another unfunded mandate from the state. Having to meet tight deadlines for responding to records requests, and having to pay the legal fees of plaintiffs who successfully sue for records, would be onerous for some communities, the association argues.

This argument sounds fishy to reporters who encounter governments that eagerly put out flattering information but somehow can’t afford to locate other records. But let’s stipulate that running a town in 2016 involves pricier equipment, greater accountability to higher authorities and to the public, and more specialized expertise than in the past.

If a town is genuinely burdened by these demands, it shouldn’t exist — at least not in its current form. 

Wow. He's calling for consolidation of towns like regionalization of schools.

The New York Times reported recently that smaller towns in Maine are disbanding, opting instead to join the Unorganized Territory where state and county agencies provide services at significantly lower expense.

Did they secede?

And it’s not just the tiniest towns that benefit from greater economies of scale: In Quebec, the provincial government has “amalgamated” municipalities up and down the population spectrum. In Rhode Island, perennially troubled Central Falls might have disappeared from the map years ago had any neighboring community been willing to absorb it.

You know, if you say that about certain chosen places its trouble, even though in other places the allegations will give you an opportunity to push a war. 

That city’s plight hints at why communities should band together long before any one of them reaches the point of no return.

Why fight the future?

The last time any Massachusetts towns were abolished, it was a tragic episode. To the dismay of residents, the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott were “discontinued” in 1938 to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir. Today, eliminating a town would likely require a vote of the public in the affected community, a cogent plan that local residents were united behind, and the passage of legislation on Beacon Hill. 

I know that history, not taken to kindly out here, and now I would settle for them beheading the snakes.

Geoff Beckwith, head of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, thinks towns are rising to the challenges facing them.

But we can't see the records!

Many smaller ones have already joined regional school districts. They’ve forged joint purchasing agreements with their neighbors, and are using voluntary multi-town arrangements, including the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, to obtain inspectional, health, and other local services.

Dunlavy says towns in Franklin County that rely on volunteer fire departments are coordinating more closely on the issue. “If you had asked a decade ago,” she says, “I would have said all emergency response is off limits [to regionalization].”

While nobody — other than the occasional buttinsky newspaper writer in Boston — is calling for political union among towns at present, the budget pressures on smaller towns are likely to grow.

Yeah, thanks for getting the ball rolling.

As broadband service becomes a necessity, towns neglected by phone and cable utilities must figure out how to provide it, and the cost of doing so may strain their limited finances.

But over time, alternative models of municipal governance could emerge: Imagine a federation of towns in which individual boards of selectmen survive but function more like neighborhood advisory councils.

Anything to dissolve the relationship with Bo$ton.

In Monroe, Stafford Gore wonders whether anyone will step forward to run the town in the future.

Well, if no one wants the job.... sigh.

She also worries about what would happen if the town fell under the control of faraway state bureaucrats. With good reason — ask Flint, Mich., how that’s worked out.

I always thought the water was good out here, but not anymore. 

Yet keeping government viable at the local level doesn’t mean all 351 of today’s municipalities must exist in perpetuity. Surely it’s better to join forces with the neighbors than become a ward of Beacon Hill.


Time to bite the bullet:

"Mass. public records law needs some teeth" by Thomas Farragher Globe Columnist  February 09, 2016

Years ago, when my hair was thick and my beard was full, I covered a small town in Connecticut, where I made my share of mistakes as I tried to learn how to do this thing we call newspapering. One of my jobs then was to pick up the local police log.

That explains why the Globe reads like it does!

Every day, I’d walk into the folksy police station, chat up the officer behind desk, and review the daily events of small community life.

This ain't Mississippi!

From the looks of things, this was the Constitution State equivalent of Pleasantville, the idyllic town depicted in the 1998 movie about a place of wide smiles, warm sunshine, and perfect teeth.

If that police log was to be believed, crime was virtually nonexistent. There was the random “wellness check,’’ when officers were dispatched to make sure an ailing senior citizen was OK. The cops would show up at false alarms to assist their firefighting brethren. But, for the most part, life was good. In fact, if that log could be believed, life as seen from the front seat of the police cruiser was a total snooze.

Then, economic storm clouds rolled in. Times turned tight. Municipal budgets were chopped, including the police department’s budget. And, all of a sudden, that police log blossomed like forsythia in early spring. There were drunken driving arrests, robbery investigations, and brazen graffiti artists to chase down.

The cops had suddenly determined that full and total disclosure — which heretofore had been considered bad for business — was their lifeline. Look how busy we are, the new, richly detailed police log said. How dare you cut our budget!

Yeah, I know how it works and why we never seem to be getting anywhere.

I bring this up now because we’re in the middle of another debate about the pathetic state of the public records law in Massachusetts. We easily have one of the most anemic such laws in the United States. It’s a disgrace.

And it’s no small irony to point out that efforts now underway to put some muscle in our public records law will take place largely in secret, as members of a House-Senate conference committee seek a compromise bill, probably by summer. 

That's one-party rule in our democracy, and it has been for a long time 'fore and since.

I’m not holding my breath for groundbreaking work to be conducted by lawmakers who already have exempted themselves from the public records law.

I'm exhaling all this on you now.

That’s right, in Massachusetts, members of the Legislature — as well as the governor and the judiciary’s administrators — disclose to the public only what they like. If records are damning, or embarrassing, or too time-consuming to produce, tough.

This is hardly a galvanizing issue for most people, some of whom have disdain — or contempt — for those who believe that the public’s business should be conducted in public.

But like those cops in Connecticut realized, there comes a time when public records become a lifeline and, suddenly, the First Amendment becomes your best friend.

How else are we to know?

Like when your neighbor shoehorns an addition onto his house in what seems to be a clear violation of local zoning laws.

Like who?

Or when the local school committee fires a beloved teacher for what supporters insist are trumped-up — or bogus — transgressions.

Like many?

The Globe has had some notable successes prying public records out of the shadows.

Yeah, they are real troopers for the public good (back slap, back slap).

That has led to stunning revelations about charlatans and corrupt public officials. We’ve written about how some state judges go easy on drunken drivers in the face of overwhelming evidence. We’ve exposed the Probation Department’s rigged hiring system.

It makes you wonder what else we could learn if we had a strong law on our side.

If it's not enforced (like now).... ??

There is a smash movie out right now. It’s called “Spotlight.” Perhaps you’ve seen it. It chronicles this newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. 

Haven't and likely won't. They tooted own horn too much.

A turning point in that coverage came when, in August 2001, the Globe filed a motion in court to unseal the records of an abusive priest.

The Globe won that case — not because state law required the records’ release, even though most court case files are presumed public. Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney ruled in our favor and an appeals court judge backed her up.

But you can’t always count on a courageous judge. That’s why our toothless law desperately needs some bite.


"State rules police can withhold video of incident with Patriots player" by Todd Wallack Globe Staff  February 24, 2016

Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office has ruled that police can withhold video of a bizarre encounter last month between Foxborough police and a shirtless New England Patriots player, fueling a larger debate over whether Galvin’s office is too willing to let government agencies keep information from the public. 

No wonder he has held the job so long; he knows all the secrets that need covering up.

Galvin’s office said releasing the video of the police officers and Chandler Jones, a defensive end with the football team, “would result in embarrassment to an individual of normal sensibilities.”

He has since come to his $en$es.

Is this why he sucked against Denver in the AFC Title Game?

“I find the individual’s privacy interests in this matter outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure,” wrote Shawn Williams, the attorney in Galvin’s office charged with overseeing public records appeals, in a decision dated Feb. 17.

As well as the Patriots' privacy.

But public records experts pointed out that the encounter occurred in a public place — the parking lot at the police station — where police and citizens alike have little expectation of privacy. A source told the Globe last month that Jones suffered a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana and went to the station to seek help.

The ruling comes at a time when Galvin’s office has already been accused of making one of the country’s weakest public records laws even weaker by giving so much deference to agencies that withhold records. In the past six years, Galvin’s office has referred only a single alleged violation of public records law to the attorney general’s office for enforcement.

The Globe and other requesters have frequently had more success obtaining records through the courts than through the secretary of state’s office, though that route is costly and time consuming.

Just performing his "public service."

Last week, Suffolk Superior Court Judge William F. Sullivan told the Massachusetts State Police to provide the Globe birthdates for state troopers, which the paper wanted to use to look up driving records of officers who had been caught driving drunk or had been involved in serious crashes.

The police, attorney general’s office, and Galvin’s office unsuccessfully argued the records were exempt under a law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying release of the birthdates would likely jeopardize the public’s safety. Judge Sullivan disagreed, noting the Globe did not plan to publish the birthdates and that the government had already released birthdates for other employees with no harm to workers.

Sullivan’s ruling marks at the least the sixth time citizens have successfully sued to obtain records in the past five years after unsuccessfully appealing to Galvin’s office. The attorney general’s office, meanwhile, could come up with only one instance during that span when citizens sued to obtain records and a judge sided with Galvin’s denial.

Why do we have to sue to.... someone already asked that?

Last week’s rulings involving the Chandler Jones video were prompted by appeals by the Globe, the Boston Herald, and New England Cable News after a strange incident involving the Patriots player last month.

According to police, Jones scurried through the parking lot and headed toward the station’s back door, wearing blue sweat pants but no shirt.

After he was confronted by police, he got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.

Like he knew the drill. Probably lucky he's alive.

Jones was later taken to Norwood Hospital, apparently after a bad drug reaction.

The police department said officers went to his house and noticed the smell of burnt marijuana, but Jones was not arrested or charged with a crime. In a radio call captured by a private company, an officer also reported that “he was definitely involved with Class D” — a category of drugs that includes marijuana.

Exhibit A for the case against recreational.

Some media reports questioned whether Jones received special treatment, since he wasn’t charged with any drug offenses and Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary initially denied his department had any dealings with Jones. In addition, police refused to release the video, and a Foxborough police lieutenant edited the dispatch log after the incident.

That last part looks criminal to me. Destruction of evidence kind of thing. 

Too late now, huh?

The town also acknowledged that the police chief earned $43,381 last year performing paid security details at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play, but insisted it wasn’t a conflict of interest because he was paid through the town. 

Oh, so he had a $elf-$erving intere$t!

“The matter was handled in the same manner and with the same protocols that would apply to a request by any member of the general public for medical aid,” William G. Keegan Jr., the Foxborough town manager, said last month.

Yeah, right!

Galvin’s office also ruled that Foxborough police were permitted to redact “medical information” from the incident report.

Bertsche, the media attorney, said he was disturbed by the secretary of state’s finding that there was no public interest in releasing the video. He thought releasing the video could allow the public to see whether it matched the police department’s official account of what occurred.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Bertsche said.

And Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said she has been repeatedly disappointed with Galvin’s office.

And to think long ago I thought he was the good-guy watchdog while checking his name!

“Decision after decision is head-slappingly pro-government and anti-requester,” Wilmot said. “Instead of vigorous enforcement of the law, the office has approved denials that literally make no sense and make a weak law even weaker.”

I don't want to make comparisons to, you know.


"Massachusetts reduces cost of copies of public records" by Todd Wallack Globe Staff  March 11, 2016

Obtaining public records just became a little cheaper in Massachusetts. 

Thank the state for small victories and crumbs!

Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office has reduced the price local and state agencies can charge for standard paper copies and printouts to 5 cents per page, according to regulations released this week. Under the old rules, officials could charge 20 cents a page for traditional copies or 50 cents per page for printouts.

It shouldn't cost the requester a damn thing! We already paid for it all; we just wanna look at it!

The change came after the Globe asked questions about why the Secretary of State’s office permitted agencies to charge as much as 50 cents a page, when commercial copying centers normally charge a fraction of that amount and Galvin himself proposed a ballot initiative last year capping prices for black and white copies at 15 cents a page. Galvin has since abandoned the measure, but both the House and Senate have passed bills reducing the price of copies to 5 cents a page; lawmakers are now trying to reconcile the bills.

Yeah, thank God for the Globe asking questions.

Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, said “the change was made to be proactive, bringing the regulations in line with the public records legislation now pending.” McNiff said the old rates were set in 1983.

Andy Dowd, president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, said the new price “better reflects the actual cost of reproducing documents with current technology.”

“I don’t believe this change will have a significant impact on most communities,” Dowd said. He noted communities already often waive fees for easy requests. 

Then the Globe making a big to-do about nothing?

But some local officials worried about the change.

The secretary of state’s regulations still permit agencies to charge additional fees for labor to search and redact documents, a provision critics say agencies sometimes abuse.

(Blog editor's chin slumps to chest)

In addition, some agencies are exempt from the public records law and can set their own fees or deny records altogether....


The bill is nothing more than making it look like the legi$lature is doing something, hoping the public will be fooled!


"Legislators in many states deny requests for records" by David A. Lieb Associated Press  March 13, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State capitols are often referred to as “the people’s house,” but legislatures frequently put up no-trespassing signs by exempting themselves from public-records laws.

That tendency was apparent when the Associated Press sought e-mails and daily schedules of legislative leaders in all 50 states. The request was met with more denials than approvals.

Oh, it's everywhere else in AmeriKa, too?

Some lawmakers claimed “legislative immunity” from the public-records laws that apply to most state and local officials.

Are you immune from tar and feathers?

Others said secrecy was essential to the deliberative process of making laws. And some feared that releasing the records could invade the privacy of citizens, creating a ‘‘chilling effect’’ on the right of people to petition their government.

This from a government that is collecting all your communications and storing them. 

They only care about their own privacy so they can continue to hide their own corruption and so the people won't blow a gasket.

Without access to such records, it’s harder for the public to know who is trying to influence their lawmakers on important policy decisions.

That paragraph right there is why they want to deny you the records.

A bill advancing this year in Massachusetts would strengthen the state’s public-records laws by limiting fees and setting new deadlines for state agencies and municipalities to comply. Yet it would continue to exempt lawmakers.

As made clear above, the bill is meaningless.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Republican Governor Charlie Baker also agreed — the latter in part — to the AP’s request to release a week’s worth of e-mails and daily schedules despite stating their own exemptions from the records law.

“The public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing because it’s the people’s job to hold those folks politically accountable,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael, Calif.-based nonprofit that seeks government openness.

All legislatures allow people to watch and listen to their debates. But an AP review of open-government policies found that many state legislatures allow closed-door caucus meetings in which a majority of lawmakers discuss policy positions before public debates.

Others have restrictions on taking photos and videos of legislative proceedings. In some places, lawmakers have no obligation to disclose financial information that could reveal conflicts of interest.

Legislators possess the power to change that but are sometimes reluctant to act.

That mirrors the way things work in Washington. Congress exempted itself when it passed the national Freedom of Information Act 50 years ago. The president and his immediate staff also are exempt. By contrast, many governors are subject to state sunshine laws.

In many states, the requirements passed by lawmakers present “a stunning contradiction,” said Charles Davis, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia and a former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

“I have just always found it astonishing that they would put those requirements on public officials throughout government and exempt themselves at the same time,” he said.

It's called hypocrisy, and after ten years of doing this blog it is not only no longer astonishing, it is to be expected.

To gauge compliance with public-records laws, the AP sent requests to the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers in all states and most governors seeking copies of their daily schedules and e-mails from their government accounts for the week of Feb. 1 to Feb. 7.

Of the more than 170 lawmakers who responded by mid-March, a majority denied the requests by claiming they were legally exempt. The governors were slower to respond but more often provided the information.

The legislative denials came from lawmakers of both parties, although slightly more from Republicans. In states where some lawmakers said “yes” and others “no,” it was more often the majority party lawmakers who denied the requests while a minority party leader complied.

In Missouri, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard was asked in front of dozens of reporters and editors whether he would release his government e-mails and daily calendars.

All you have to do is ask for it, and I’ll give it to you. I don’t care,” Richard told those attending a statewide press association event in February.

Yet when the AP subsequently submitted an open-records request, Richard reversed course. A Senate administrator responded on his behalf with a letter saying that individual lawmakers aren’t subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Richard, who is in his first year as the Senate’s top lawmaker, explained that he learned his predecessors had determined they were exempt, and he didn’t want to break with precedent.

“I’m telling you I don’t hide anything in my e-mails. I just don’t do that,” said Richard, a Republican from Joplin.

Just have to take his word for it!

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn responded by asserting his e-mails and calendars were his personal property, not subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act and protected “under the doctrine of legislative immunity” dating back hundreds of years to English common law.

You didn't send them through Hillary Clinton's server, did you?

Denial letters on behalf of Illinois’s top Democratic and Republican lawmakers said, among other things, that releasing the records could amount to a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” for individuals who contacted lawmakers without expecting their names to appear in the news media.


Now it's become and invasion of privacy issue?

"Union of Concerned Scientists seeks to shield scientists from public scrutiny" by David Abel Globe Staff  March 19, 2016

The group has been a fierce advocate for transparency, regularly championing investigations that rely on public documents to hold government officials accountable.

But over the past year, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based advocacy group that represents thousands of scientists around the country, has campaigned to limit the scrutiny of scientists who work for public universities and agencies through public records requests.

These scientists, the group says, are increasingly being harassed by ideological foes who seek to unearth documents that would derail or sully their work with evidence of bias.

“We don’t want to work in an environment where every keystroke is subject to public records,’’ said Michael Halpern, who oversees strategy at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, founded at MIT in 1969. “We’re trying to protect the deliberative nature of science. . . . Scientists need space to come to new knowledge, and to give critical feedback.”

But the group’s efforts have sparked tensions with other open-government advocates, who have argued that it risks opening loopholes that could make it easier for officials and agencies to hide information from the public.

“It’s just gibberish to say these laws stifle research,” said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists’s freedom of information committee. “These are government scientists funded by taxpayers, and the public is entitled to see what they’re working on.”

That discredits them.

The dispute centers on the proper balance between academic freedom and the transparency of public institutions, and has escalated as a growing number of scientists, typically those who research controversial topics such as climate change, receive public records requests.

Oh, it's all about the Climategate lie and keeping that $cam going.

The requests often seek e-mails between scientists in hopes of exposing ideological bias or a political agenda. While open records laws vary from state to state, the controversy primarily affects researchers at public universities or those involved in projects that receive public funding.

Critics say that many of the requests abuse the spirit of open records laws and threaten to stifle research. They also make it harder for public universities to conduct controversial research and attract top faculty, compared with private universities where scientists aren’t generally subject to open records laws, they say.

“Our role is to raise awareness about how scientists are being harassed,” Halpern said.

I never realized that incontrovertible and checkable science was such a blood sport.

Halpern wants exceptions made for scientists in public information laws, and has argued for new standards at federal institutions, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, that would shield e-mails with fellow scientists, research notes, primary data, and other correspondence they consider confidential.

In a 2015 report titled “Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers,” the Union of Concerned Scientists cited a host of examples of researchers who said they had been harassed by public records requests.

A climate scientist, Michael Mann, who had taught at the University of Virginia and now teaches at Penn State, described how a conservative group called the American Tradition Institute used Virginia’s open records law to seek all his e-mail correspondence with other scientists.

He resisted, and after a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected the request in 2014, ruling that Mann’s e-mails were exempt from the state’s public records law.

He described the request as an “attack” and said it reflected how public records requests are being used “in a way that they were never intended to be used.”

“What groups like ATI are looking for is a weak link, some institution that, rather than asserting its rights . . . will simply take the path of least resistance (and expense), and cave,” Mann wrote in an e-mail. “That’s why they continue to probe, filing vexatious open records requests against climate researchers in state after state.”

He's the guy who hid the decline in temperatures since 1998.

The report also cited the case of Steve Wing, an epidemiologist from the University of North Carolina.

Wing said he was targeted with “extensive and burdensome” public records requests by the North Carolina Pork Council, a trade group, after he released a study in the 1990s linking neighbors’ illnesses to hog farms. The group sought all materials associated with the study, including the names of the study’s participants.

Different issue from global warming, and bacon is big in AmeriKa now.

Wing said a university administrator told him he could be subject to criminal prosecution if he failed to comply, and he eventually negotiated a compromise to turn over documents that were redacted to protect the participants’ confidentiality.

But open government advocates note that public records requests have helped expose conflicts of interests involving scientists, such as Wei-Hock Soon, a physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has argued that global warming can be explained by variations in the sun’s energy, rather than increased carbon emissions from pollution.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, environmental groups obtained documents showing that Soon had failed to disclose he had accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry.

I'm tired of the false debate when one need only look to the sky.

In Massachusetts, the open records law includes no exemptions for the communications of researchers at public universities. Proposed changes to the records law, slated for debate this year, would not add any.

But state officials, as well as those at public universities, have often cited other exemptions to deny requests or redact records, or only make them available at exorbitant fees. For example, the law allows the University of Massachusetts to exempt “trade secrets or other proprietary information” from public records requests.

The debate has intensified in recent weeks. In a New York Times opinion piece in January, Paul Thacker, a journalist and former congressional investigator, wrote that adding exemptions to public records laws would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“When research is paid for by the public, the public has a right to demand transparency,” he wrote. “Scientists who profess agreement with transparency only when it is on their terms are not for transparency at all.”

Halpern responded on the group’s blog, calling Thacker’s arguments “hollow” and saying they misrepresent the union’s campaign.

“The suggestion that scientists are hypocrites for supporting transparency while opposing absolute disclosure does not hold water,” he wrote.

Why? Because you say so?

Halpern said the union supports keeping all correspondence between scientists and government officials open to the public, and acknowledged the challenge in finding the proper line between transparency and confidentiality.

“We have plenty of work to do to increase transparency in science, and rid it of inappropriate influence,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t mean we should scan every handwritten note, record every phone call, or publish every e-mail.”

Like the NSA!


Time to leave politics for lobbying:

"Another state senator takes lobbying job" by Jim O’Sullivan Globe Staff  December 04, 2015

State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, an East Boston Democrat widely considered a potential successor for the Senate presidency, is leaving the body to join a Boston lobbying firm.

Petruccelli’s departure, as the state Senate adjusts to new leadership under Stanley C. Rosenberg, will likely touch off a special election in a district that includes East Boston, the North End, Beacon Hill, Revere, Winthrop, and parts of Cambridge.

Joining Kearney, Donovan & McGee, Petruccelli becomes part of an ever-lengthening parade of lawmakers leaving office but remaining on Beacon Hill. In the last several years, a handful of state senators once regarded as potential leaders of the chamber have stepped aside and taken lobbying jobs.

The firm’s clients include insurers, Amazon, Comcast, and Yankee Atomic Electric Co.

Petruccelli said he would likely resign in January.

“I love my job as a state senator,” he said in a telephone interview. “However, after almost 17 years of serving in the Legislature and over 20 years in public service, my family and I felt like this was the right time to move in a different direction of my life professionally and our lives as a family.”

Petruccelli added, “While it is sad to give up something that I have done for so long and have been honored to do for the people who have elected me over the years, it is exciting to be transitioning into the private sector.”

Petruccelli won a House seat in 1999 during a special election, then took the Senate seat in 2006, succeeding former Senate president Robert E. Travaglini.

When Rosenberg claimed the presidency earlier this year, Petruccelli was viewed as a potential chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. But Rosenberg passed him over for Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat. Petruccelli instead became the Senate’s majority whip, the sixth-ranking position on the leadership ladder. 

I guess he had reservations after that.


UPDATELegislature poised to pass public records measure

There is a but with that.