When Transparency Redeems: The Unexpected Case of Bill Galvin

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

galcovDear Secretary of State William F. Galvin:

On several occasions Pioneer Institute has criticized your perceived inaction in responding to complaints about various agencies’ non-compliance with public records law. On those occasions we opined that inaction by your office had the effect of promoting a culture that did not take the state’s duty to provide transparent information seriously enough. More recently, we wrote about emails between you and the Attorney General‘s office — emails which you claimed would validate your long-held position that you were a dedicated public servant stymied by outside forces.

Having now read those emails, we agree with you and stand corrected.

The records your office provided to us clearly show that previous attorneys general, the final arbiters in open meeting and public records law disputes, undermined your efforts. Your office referred to the offices of Thomas Reilly and Martha Coakley matters in which departments or municipalities had apparently acted in bad faith, claiming material was exempt on disingenuous grounds or inappropriately declaring agency exemptions from public records law altogether. Their responses were similar: An independent review conducted by the Attorney General’s office found no wrongdoing and thus no enforcement was required. For example, General Reilly’s office denied your request with these words:


There are examples of General Coakley denying your request with very similar phrasing.

To your credit, you challenged these responses from the Attorney General’s Office with a clear reprimand.


By your own admission, at some point you stopped trying because you knew what the response would be. So, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Secretary Galvin, for trying to advance transparency.

We understand the comity that state officials, and especially constitutional officers, seek to maintain. We believe, however, that the public’s access to public documents is so important that, in the future, we hope that you will let the public know when state officials block documents from the public’s eye.

The new Attorney General has thus far spoken clearly about the importance of expanding the public’s access to information. We hope that you both can work together to advance this important purpose. A robust democratic process in Massachusetts depends on it.

J. Patrick Brown is the Editor of Muckrock.com, an organization which facilitates public record requests and serves as an independent news source covering government transparency issues nationwide.