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Mass. “transparency”

By Laura Crimaldi, board member, New England First Amendment Coalition

If you’ve visited the official Bay State website recently, you’ve probably seen a new section prominently displayed on the home page called “Massachusetts Transparency.”

Let me be the first to tell you while commendable, this site won’t convince anyone that a new day of openness in Massachusetts government is dawning.

“As Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and I travel the Commonwealth, we often talk about our commitment to open government; to a government that recognizes that we are doing the people’s business,” Gov. Deval Patrick writes in the site’s welcome message. “Only through an open honest presentation of the work of government, can the citizens of Massachusetts have the confidence that your money is being spent wisely and effectively.”

The site is the product of legislation enacted Jan. 1 requiring the Executive Office of Administration and Finance to publish a searchable website tracking state funding, local aid to cities and towns and audits and reports about state funding.

Much of this information is already available on the state’s website, albeit scattered across multiple locations where even the most attentive government watchers might struggle to find it.

But the meat and potatoes of government transparency are making every aspect of the state’s operations open to public inspection and this legislation and new site fall well short of that goal.

The judiciary and Legislature – two of three branches of government – remain exempt from the state’s public records law.

Have you ever submitted a public records request to the governor’s office? Then you must be familiar with Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council, the decision frequently cited by the governor’s lawyers when denying access to records.

If Patrick and Murray are committed to doing the people’s business as they say, they’ll ignore Lambert and file legislation to subject state lawmakers and the judiciary to the same public records law that binds hundreds of state agencies and local governments.

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