‘Calling out’ the Secretary of State

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Secretary of State Bill Galvin didn’t waste time when it came to holding for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts accountable for his assertion on the ethnic voting gap in Massachusetts.

“I’m calling him out,” Galvin said of Roberts’ assertion, noting the actual numbers show the opposite.

 But when it comes to holding his own management team accountable, we would have hoped the Secretary would exert the same vigilance.Our hope was dashed.

At MuckRock, a public records request service, we’ve filed thousands of records requests to hundreds of agencies on behalf of our users — a mix of journalists, researchers, and everyday citizens – with the assurance that we had a place to turn if government agencies stymied us.

The role of the Supervisor of Public Records, working under the Secretary of State, is to act as voice and enforcer when state or local agencies stonewall the public by denying or delaying requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.  With such power, the office should be a close ally for those who view transparency as a key element in a healthy democracy.

When we asked the Supervisor for a log of public records appeals by citizens denied access to documents, it took two months to get even a cursory response and the answer was disheartening. The Supervisor maintained that “no other records” responsive to our request existed apart from random folders containing a sampling of specific cases.

That meant the he could offer no log, database or comprehensive listing of complaints both past and present.

Working with Pioneer Institute, MuckRock issued a public call for the office to comprehensively track public records complaints so the power of the public eye could more effectively ensure compliance with public records law by agencies.

And we were heard (we think).

A few months later, a log of public records appeals “appeared” in our inbox, forwarded by a reporter who later asked for the same information. That meant the Supervisor either picks favorites when it comes to compliance with the law or else is so disorganized, it doesn’t know the files in its own office.

We won’t know the true story because when we asked the Supervisor to explain the disparate treatment, we got no response.

So, in the name of transparency, with respect to Secretary Galvin’s office, we have no choice but to again “call him out.”