FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – It’s oddly satisfying when one government agency battles another for transparency. For once, it’s not a reporter knocking down their door.
But the town of Hopkinton’s quest for public records from the casino licensing board is a testament to how entitled state officials feel to work in secrecy.
This year The MetroWest Daily News and The Milford Daily News have followed Hopkinton’s attorney and selectmen as they fight a proposal to build a casino nearby, along I-495 in Milford. Attorney Ray Miyares in January requested from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission copies of all applications submitted by individuals and businesses behind the casino proposal.
To the town’s astonishment, the Gaming Commission stalled for four months before releasing anything. The commission has now released half of what it promised, with only one problem: it blacked out nearly all information on the forms.
The Hopkinton town attorney has appealed the redaction and requested an in-camera review by the Massachusetts secretary of state.
The saga exposes three sad truths about the quest for information in Massachusetts. First, we see the lengths to which state officials go to keep information private. It also suggests that state officials are siding with casino moguls. Last, and perhaps most unfortunately, it shows how little Hopkinton officials understand about the government’s fervor for secrecy.
Through reporting on Hopkinton’s public records requests, we realized how officials who wrote the 2011 gaming law took advantage of Massachusetts’ notoriously weak Public Records Law.
The Records Law essentially deems all records public except ones lawmakers say are private. The gaming law, MGL Chapter 194, created a new type of private document: anything that could put a developer at a “competitive disadvantage.”
Hopkinton’s fight shows how the Gaming Commission interpreted that exemption broadly, blacking out answers even to yes/no questions such as whether the company has donated to a political cause.
The fight has also shown how little local officials understand of the government’s determination to operate behind closed doors.
The town’s attorney said the Gaming Commission’s reluctance for transparency contradicts the “way that we’re used to seeing government function.”
Call me cynical, but to me, it seems like business as usual. We have to keep fighting.