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 21 Freedom of Information requests on a range of issues, including Massachusetts’ health care reform, solar energy initiatives and state employment. Some simply requested specific, discrete documents. But despite payment of hundreds of dollars in copying fees, I have not yet received a single page responsive to these requests.
Instead, we have been chasing data down Alice’s rabbit hole, referenced from one agency to another and back, only to be told, for example, that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, charged with making “clean energy a centerpiece of the Commonwealth’s economic future”, “does not possess” any documents that demonstrate “previous direct or indirect work experience related to the solar energy industry.” In other words, an agency charged with handing out millions in clean energy grants states, in writing, it has no evidence that any of its employees have experience in solar energy. If true, it would go a long way towards truly explaining the Evergreen Solar fiasco. The situation would be funny, if it wasn’t your state and if Evergreen hadn’t accepted one of the largest private investments the State of Massachusetts ever made, only to cut and run three years later.
Having filed or helped file over 400 Freedom of Information requests, I’m sad to report that the tight-lipped Central Intelligence Agency is more transparent than Massachusetts when it comes to this basic information.
The citizens of Massachusetts deserve better from their employees: They deserve accountability, transparency and to know what they’re getting with their tax dollars. So far, I’ve waited 84 days for them to submit the first draft of that chapter.