Entries by Caitlin Russell

Why do Massachusetts municipalities make meeting transparency harder than it has to be?

Executive session is where local governing boards interview police chiefs and school superintendents, negotiate with unions, discuss litigation, talk about misconduct by town employees, and conduct other delicate business that is kept temporarily private for legitimate reasons. Once the purpose of the meeting is resolved, the minutes are supposed to be reviewed by the town […]

Judicial Branch Holds Transparency in Contempt

In yet another Massachusetts public records milestone, the Center for Public Integrity gave the Commonwealth an “F” for judicial accountability, citing the large number of exemptions that stonewall public access to court records. But what does that really mean? Now, of all of Massachusetts’ egregious public records exemptions (and there are plenty), some exemptions that […]

Two States, Two Bills, Two Different Takes on Transparency

This week, Florida State Representative Greg Steube and Senator Rene Garcia introduced bills that would amend existing Sunshine Laws, making the awarding of attorney’s fees discretionary in cases where agencies were found to be illegally denying access to public records. Currently requires legal fees to be awarded in such cases. Predictably, the bills were met […]

Massachusetts Public Records Reform Shouldn’t Make Delay the Law of the Land

By Michael Morisy Over the past few years, something unusual has quietly happened when it comes to public access: Small changes for the better. But while legislation passed by the House includes some great and much needed improvements – it fails to address, and in some case worsens – Massachusetts public records law’s problems, leaving […]

Baker Public Records Announcement a Great Start – So Long as it’s a Start

These last few weeks have been hectic for transparency advocates in Massachusetts. Shortly after the disappointing announcement that the vote for public records reform would be bumped to September, Governor Charlie Baker finally addressed the subject, proposing a series of sweeping, state-level reforms that would be implemented in the next couple of weeks. After the […]

For Massachusetts Public Records law, a Little Progress Goes a Long Way

Earlier this month, Massachusetts transparency advocates celebrated a rare win when the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) – a regional SWAT team which covers the greater Boston area – agreed to be considered a public entity, and therefore subject to public records laws. If that doesn’t sound like much cause for celebration – […]

A Tale of Two Transparencies

Recently, we wrote about the redemption of Secretary of State William Galvin after a records request for communications between his office and the Office of the Attorney General revealed the frustrating brush-offs he had received from the previous two AGs. Shortly thereafter, we received a response to an identical request we had made to the […]

The High Cost of Records Requests at the MBTA Hits a New Low

As we’ve written about before, in Massachusetts your legal right to transparency at times comes with a fairly hefty premium. Agencies routinely use exorbitant fee estimates as a way to get out of having to fulfill “burdensome” (read: embarrassing) requests, and no agency has been more consistently blatant about the practice than the MBTA. Whether […]

Galvin Wants $70 to Show He Fought For Transparency

On several occasions, both MuckRock and the Pioneer Institute have made their dissatisfaction with Secretary of State William Galvin’s role as Supervisor of Public Records perfectly clear. Few officials have worked harder to protect the government from the public’s right to transparency, ruling time and time against disclosure. Spurred by his abysmal handling of a […]

Mayor Walsh’s office turn public records requests about the Olympics into PR

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already. A prominent politician conveniently can’t find any emails related to a controversial topic. Then, following a period of public rancor, s/he magically produces said emails, with all the controversial bits removed. Sure seems like that’s been happening a lot lately, huh? Shortly after it was announced that […]

Help Us Sift through the MBTA’s Contract with Keolis

Last March, French transportation company Keolis won a $2.6 billion contract to run the MBTA’s commuter rail. A little under a year late, and what was shaping up to be a promising relationship has quickly gone sour, with the MBTA levying six-figure fines for poor service and worse conditions as early as November – months […]

How an Obscure Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ruling Crippled Public Records Law

Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? What color was Napoleon’s white horse? What constitutes a public record under Massachusetts public records law? On the surface, all of these seem like straightforward questions with equally straightforward answers. However, anyone whose been on the receiving end of those first two gotchas – Grant and his daughters, grey – […]

Our Transparency Resolutions for 2015

A new year lies ahead, and with it comes new opportunities to right past wrongs. For transparency advocates in Massachusetts, those opportunities couldn’t come soon enough. After years of truly abysmal public records policy, 2015 is shaping up to be a valuable opportunity to not only get Massachusetts up to the national standard, but to […]

In Massachusetts, Asking Agencies to Do Their Jobs Can Be Expensive

Despite its name, the Freedom of Information Act can set you back quite a bit. To cut departmental costs and prevent abuse, every incarnation of public records law on both national and state levels includes some form of provision which allows for the agency to charge requesters a “nominal” fee for search, processing, and reproduction […]

When it comes to Public Records, What’s a Fantasy in Massachusetts is a Reality in Florida

Those who dabble in public records know there’s no such thing as a “painless” records request – only varying degrees of “relatively less painful.” Even the most straightforward process is still a process, one which involves tracking down the right contact, formulating the wording just so, and waiting to hear back a (potentially inconclusive) response. […]

When It Comes to Disclosing Public Official’s Financial Interests, Mass is in the Sad Minority

Last week, we looked at some of the bureaucratic obstacles that transparency advocates in Massachusetts can find themselves faced with, eventually singling out the Ethics Commission’s Statements of Financial Interests (SFIs) as a particularly egregious example. Not only does the Commission require you to fill out a completely superfluous additional form and attach a copy […]

In Mass, records are available on a “Why-Do-You-Need-To-Know” basis

Last week, MuckRock journalist Todd Feathers wrote about a recent change to Boston public records policy, introduced by the Walsh administration, which required that members of the media submit their requests through the City Hall PR office … even if those requests had nothing whatsoever to do with City Hall. It’s to assist in the […]

Why do Massachusetts police departments have tanks? And more importantly, why are they hiding them?

Ever since media coverage of the Ferguson protests brought us images of local law enforcement armed with weapons and gear that looked more at home in Fallujah than a suburb of St. Louis, the increased militarization of the police has been a topic of much controversy and debate. However, while the national scrutiny is new, […]

For transparency advocates, with friends like Galvin …

A report in the Globe last week made public what those who deal with government transparency in Massachusetts knew all too well – the state’s terrible reputation for public records laws is well-deserved, and only made worse by the lack of help, and not direct hindrance, of the Secretary of State, William Galvin. Galvin oversees […]