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 request for officers’ drunken driving records – ruling that police are entitled to withhold whatever criminal records they choose to withhold without oversight, on the eve of Sunshine Week, no less – dissatisfaction with Galvin appears to be catching, with media outlets all over Massachusetts crying foul.
In response to this increased scrutiny, Galvin’s gone on the defensive, arguing that, whatever appearances, his actions were always intended to streamline the public records process and promote a more open Massachusetts. The fact that he hasn’t bothered to push any appeals to the Massachusetts Attorney General over the last four years? Why, that was for your benefit – he tried to get them to take the cases, but they just wouldn’t listen. By not asking the AG, he’s just saving you time.
It’s an interesting argument, and one that’s easily enough validated by a copy of the correspondence between Galvin’s office and the AG. Which is exactly why MuckRock asked for it.
Galvin got back to us within a week – they had located the records, and would be glad to hand them over. Oh, once a $70 fee for search time and printed copies was paid of course.
Not even addressing the issue of providing electronically formatted records – a law that Galvin himself is supposed to enforce – it stands to reason that a document at the heart of a public debate that would theoretically exonerate one party is exactly the kind of document that falls under the category of “public interest.” At the very least, Galvin’s interest. In that light, we appealed on the grounds that fees should be waived.
Our appeal was denied.
Fortunately, Pioneer stepped in and has graciously agreed to pay the costs, and we should have documents supporting one side of the argument or other shortly. And if it does turn out that we were wrong about Galvin all along, and he has indeed been a tireless defender of open government struggling to make do within a hostile system, then good for him. We just wish he had made it easier for us to find that out.
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.