FOI Fight Moves to Massachusetts

UPDATE: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has vowed to mend the FOI rift with the Secretary of State’s office. We’ll keep you posted.

Massachusetts’ public records law, already considered one of the weakest in the nation, has taken another hit.

A series of rulings by Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin has given police greater power to withhold and censor arrest records—including those of officers themselves.

On Friday, The Boston Globe ran an editorial blasting Galvin for his actions. A day later, Galvin publicly pledged to push for a ballot referendum in November 2016 that would punish government agencies who ignore the state’s public records laws.

Other news outlets, including the Boston Herald, have joined the cry for much needed open records reform in the state.

SPJ is proud to stand with them, especially during Sunshine Week. This is the letter we sent to Galvin today (UPDATED with minor corrections):

March 17, 2015

William Francis Galvin
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
McCormack Building
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Secretary Galvin:

State and national leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists, which represent about 7,500 journalists nationwide, stand with the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Patriot Ledger and other news outlets in condemnation of your recent rulings on the state’s public records law.

These rulings give Massachusetts police departments new discretion to withhold public records that are deemed covered by Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and impede the taxpaying public’s ability to hold law enforcement officials to the standards to which they expect them to perform. The rulings are also redundant and unnecessary since there are already laws in place protecting the privacy of police personnel.

We believe these rulings severely damage the public’s ability to gain access and insight to information to which it is legally entitled. At a time when the public is demanding more transparency from law enforcement agencies, we see this as a significant step backward. It’s a disservice to the citizens of the Massachusetts and an insult to the spirit of open government.

We applaud your attempt to reform the Commonwealth’s public records law by proposing a November 2016 ballot initiative increasing penalties for agencies that ignore the rules. But citizens should not have to wait 20 months to vote for easier access to, what is in truth, their property.

In the name of transparency and good government practices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we respectfully request you to withdraw the recent rulings and publicly support legislation filed by Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton and Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester that would greatly improve the public records law.

With its proud history of championing freedom and liberty, Massachusetts should be a leader in government openness, not secrecy.

Sincerely,

Danielle McLean
President, SPJ New England Professional Chapter

Rebecca Baker
SPJ Region 1 Director

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