Entries by Michael Morisy

A look at Massachusetts updated public records legislation

 A version of this article appeared on MuckRock. In September, the Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records released its proposed update to public records regulations that would be used to carry out the long-awaited public records reform that goes into effect January 1, 2017. Here’s what’s worth keeping an eye on. The first thing to note is that these are *draft* regulations. If you see something you don’t like, it’s not etched in stone — yet. If you’d like to compare the proposed regulations with the current ones, the latter are available on the Supervisor of Public Records website, and you can just flip to page 49 (numbered as page 43). It’s also worth reading some of the other commentary on […]

Stop grading Massachusetts transparency on a curve

As Pioneer’s Steve Poftak has pointed out, the Office for Administration and Finance has been crowing about an “A-” transparency rating given to it by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, which applauded the state’s Open Checkbook portal. But while Open Checkbook is a great initiative, saying it makes Massachusetts transparent is a bit like saying your toddler’s the next Tom Brady because he can throw his food on the floor. The Bay State has a lot of growing up to do. Earlier this week, WBUR invited me on to talk about the “C” grade the State Integrity Investigation gave Massachusetts in its “Corruption Risk Report Card.” I told reporter Deborah Becker that I thought that grade was still too lenient: Given the […]

Massachusetts Transparency: A long, long waiting game

For over a year now, the Pioneer Institute has been pursuing a series of public records requests on a variety of issues, from school performance to the state’s fated investment into Evergreen Solar. It’s largely been an exercise in frustration, denials misdirection, but I have learned some things about the state of public access in Massachusetts, and given the state’s been crowing about a recent A- transparency report card , it seemed like a good time to share it with a handy infographic (Click to enlarge).

Massachusetts Dreams of Kick-starting a New Economy With Solar

“I’ve said all along, if Massachusetts can get clean energy technology right, the world will be our customer. Evergreen Solar is one of the companies that’s going to help us get clean energy right. I am proud that my economic development and energy and environmental affairs teams were able to help Evergreen Solar grow and thrive right here in Massachusetts, and give us a head start toward building a clean energy economy.” – Governor Deval Patrick, April 17, 2007 Press Release In previous posts, I’ve looked at why Massachusetts failed to see looming problems with Evergreen Solar and how competition with other bidders drove state employees to scramble to appease Evergreen negotiators . Another narrative arc also helps explain why […]

Massachusetts raced other states to win over doomed Evergreen Solar

In my last post, I took a look at how surprisingly credulous state executives were of Evergreen Solar’s business. Rarely, if ever, were concerns raised about whether Evergreen Solar was a good investment for the state to make, nor whether the solar industry in general was fundamentally sound. That green jobs had a bright future was, documents indicate, an article of faith. It’s easy now, as much of the predicted “Green Boom” has gone bust, to second guess the decisions made. A question that should be answered, however, is why those decisions were made. The Patrick administration hasn’t been eager to answer that question. When quizzed about the bankruptcy, the governor insisted the company’s CEO was “out of the loop” while […]

Why did Evergreen Solar backers miss the Chinese threat?

In reviewing hundreds of pages of documents related to Massachusetts’ incentives for Evergreen Solar, decision makers made clear the risks of not investing: Passing on the proposal would lead to, officials stated, a loss of potential manufacturing jobs to other states or other countries while giving up a competitive position in an emerging manufacturing market that could set the Commonwealth back for years to come. What is much less clear, however, is what concerns about Evergreen Solar’s viability were considered. For example, there is almost no mention made of rival Chinese solar manufacturers despite the fact that less than four years later the downward pressure these manufacturers placed on solar pricing would ultimately help push Evergreen Solar towards bankruptcy. Reading […]

Focus group, dog and pony show, or both? Early Results from Health Connector FOIA

If government agencies had nothing to hide, perhaps they would follow public records laws. I’ve written before about how non-responsive state agencies can be to public record requests, and in particular to requests dealing with Evergreen Solar, and it now appears somebody has been listening. Eight days after my blog post on the delayed Evergreen Solar request, and just 175 days after it was originally filed, I finally received 66 pages of responsive documents. The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development kindly waived potential fees. Shortly before that I received the results of another overdue request, this one to the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector for the results of early focus groups the state used to shape the simple Gold/Silver/Bronze selection now […]

Could Solyndra have happened in Massachusetts?

Solyndra could serve as a textbook case for the dangers of government trying to turn investor, mixing ideology, economics and the appearance of favoritism. The Department of Energy’s $535 million loan guarantee also seems to echo Massachusetts’ own failed investment in luring Evergreen Solar to Devens. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Solyndra, which manufactured solar panels and was a poster child for President Barack Obama’s green jobs push, is now being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over allegations that executives knowingly misled the government to secure the loan guarantee. These are currently just allegations and Solyndra executives are innocent until proven guilty, but the matter is further complicated by the fact that the company had financial ties with the White House, […]

In New England, Massachusetts leads job growth – for state employees

I reached out about a month and a half ago to Governor Patrick’s office to see if they could help understand how, after bipartisan support for cutting state jobs through the recession, the state actually added to its payroll. As usual, despite numerous phone calls and e-mails, I was told someone would “be in touch” … and then nothing. While I still hold out hope that one day we’ll get an answer about how headcounts grew throughout round after round of supposed layoffs, it might be more practical in the meantime to compare the Commonwealth to its peers to better understand how other state governments have handled a reduction in income when it comes to their staffing levels. Massachusetts leads the […]

Will Massachusetts’ Evergreen Solar secrets die with it?

Now that Evergreen Solar is filing for bankruptcy, the question of why Massachusetts ever thought the failing solar upstart was a good investment – and why the state should be in risky green energy investing at all – seems a pretty pertinent one. Unfortunately, some state agencies seem determined to make sure whatever lessons could be learned from the disaster won’t see the light of day. In particular, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development has dragged its feet an inexcusably long time for getting even basic information on the background of the $58 million in investments, incentives and aid. On March 10, 2011, I filed a series of three public records requests with that agency requesting: Documents that analyze potential […]

After Dozens of Rounds of Layoffs, More State Employees Than Before

Even after dozens of rounds of layoffs and promises of cutbacks state employment continued to be a growth industry in Massachusetts through the recession, according to analysis of data from the Comptroller of the Commonwealth and from the Human Resources Division. Several state departments, after a dozen or more layoffs, actually ended up with an increased headcount. Under the threat of massive budget shortfalls in 2008, Governor Deval Patrick promised a slashed budget and “painful” reductions in state staffing numbers. In total, he said 1,000 jobs would be eliminated, spanning a variety of services and departments. While the governor admitted the cost would have tangible impacts on everything from RMV wait times to services for the disabled and deaf, the […]

Transparency, To a Point

Just 99 days after filing the first in a series of requests, I finally received some records from the Massachusetts’ Human Resources Division yesterday. I had planned to blog again on the issue after the counter hit 100 days, so the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is saved by the bell. And what a bargain: For 6 pages, Pioneer Institute paid just $61.33 per sheet. The Division of Human Resources graciously waived the 64 cents postage fee, but a number of questions still linger. When Governor Deval Patrick took office, for example, he promised a “more modern and accessible and accountable” government. While there have been some progress (MassDot has rightly won praise for some of its transparency initiatives), transparency is often […]

Governor Deval Patrick’s Missing Chapter on Transparency

Governor Deval Patrick’s new autobiography, “A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life”, is an inspiring story, detailing his rise from Chicago impoverishment to his current job as governor of the Commonwealth. While frank about his personal heroes and inspirations, the book skims over his political battles and the decisions he faced in his first term. Even health care reform, of which Massachusetts has in many ways been an early adopter and champion, received negligible mention. Unfortunately, while his personal story is remarkable, his policies haven’t been a very open book. On vital issues of both local and national importance, I’ve seen pushback, opacity and silence. Starting in January of this year, working with the Pioneer Institute, I’ve filed […]