nefaclogo1-15 The NEFAC Report
            New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch

February  2011

Prepared by the New England First Amendment Coalition in partnership with Northeastern University    
   The monthly NEFAC Report monitors print and online coverage of public access issues in the six-state region. Visit our revamped Website  for the NEFAC blog, media updates from around New England, guides to the states' right-to-know laws, legal contacts and more.
Town told report on open-meeting violation unneeded  
  ASHLAND, Mass. -  Town Counsel Lisa Mead told selectmen Chairman Jon Fetherston yesterday he did not have to file an Open Meeting Law violation complaint with the attorney general's office over an improper e-mail sent by a selectman last month.
   Fetherston said Saturday he would report the violation, which stemmed from an e-mail sent by Selectman Joe Magnani to two other selectmen and town employees. In the e-mail, Magnani said he was unhappy with the state of negotiations with town rubbish and recycling contractor Waste Management and said he thought Town Manager John Petrin was rushing the selectmen to close talks.
   Since the e-mail was sent to two other selectmen, a quorum was formed, and because it contained an opinion on a matter before the board, the exchange constituted a violation of the Open Meeting Law.
   In a letter to Fetherston yesterday, Mead explained the process of reporting an Open Meeting Law violation and said that by explaining the transgression in its open session on Saturday, the board had taken remedial action to correct the violation.  Read more

- Kendall Hatch, The MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass. 


UConn fighting to keep donor lists secret 
   HARTFORD, Conn - The University of Connecticut is fighting in court to prevent the release of lists naming its supporters, arguing they amount to trade secrets that other institutions could use to lure away Huskies fans' dollars and loyalties.
   Open-records experts say it's the first time Connecticut's courts will have to decide whether public entities, not just businesses, can invoke a trade-secret exemption to keep information private - even if it was created at public expense.
   Depending on the appeals court's ruling, the case could also make public thousands of names of UConn boosters: season ticket holders to athletics and cultural events, nonstudents who've inquired about continuing studies programs and donors to the library system.  Read more

- Stephanie Reitz, The Associated Press


Common Cause opposes plan to merge CT agencies   
  HARTFORD, Conn. - The first opposition to a proposal to consolidate government agencies has come from Common Cause, which is concerned about the grouping of the so-called "watchdog agencies" under one commissioner.
   Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has proposed merging 81 agencies to 57, a 30 percent reduction, for a savings of some $10 million.
   As part of that plan, he wants the Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission, Judicial Review Council, Contracting Standards Board and the Office of State Ethics under one person.
   Common Cause said each of these agencies is charged with upholding the public's interest, but they have unique enforcement functions that do not overlap, as well as personnel with specialized knowledge.
   "This plan guarantees perpetual conflict of interest," Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of Common Cause, said. "In addition, cutting staff to the watchdog agencies threatens these agencies' ability to oversee the laws governing ethics, elections and freedom of information, as well as our landmark Citizens' Election Program."  Read more

-  Mary E. O'Leary, New Haven (Conn.) Register


Delivery on ME gov's transparency pledge questioned    
   "Every Maine citizen has a right to know what government is up to," reads candidate Paul LePage's campaign website. "He will fight for stronger laws to protect and expand Maine citizens' right to access information from state and local government. When Paul is Governor, open government will be a reality, not a talking point."
   "The LePage administration will have the most transparent transition process in Maine history," declared Gov.-elect LePage during a press conference shortly after he won the election.
   Now that LePage is governor, however, things have changed.
   Members of his administration seem to be doing everything they can to hide that corporations and their lobbyists played a big role in his transition, and these interests have been granted the power to shape administration policy and change Maine law.
   This influence and deception has been most apparent in the controversy surrounding LePage's proposals to roll back decades of environmental and public health protections.  Read more

- Mike Tipping, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine


Unsealed minutes reveal $129k offer for job completion  
    KEENE, N.H. - A Keene School District committee overseeing construction of the new middle school has offered an extra $129,322 to the firm handling the project to ensure the project is finished in time for the start of the school year, according to meeting minutes that were unsealed Saturday morning.
   The unsealed minutes detail the offer by the committee to help MacMillin Co. of Keene achieve substantial completion of the project by Aug. 3, three weeks after the originally contracted completion date.
   The offer also states no additional money will be approved for MacMillin.
   All of the money would go to pay subcontractors for expenses, not to MacMillin's bottom line, district officials said.  Read more

- Kyle Jarvis, The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel


Editorial: Come clean on CT town workplace threat 
   A local town is once again withholding access to public information in an act of excessive caution and in unwarranted deference to the desires of a public employee.
   The latest case involves Town of Stonington highway department employee Ernie Santos. Mr. Santos allegedly threatened a fellow employee, leading to his placement on paid administrative leave.
   Workplace violence is a serious matter, but exactly what happened, how the town dealt with it and whether the employee has any pattern of misconduct remains a mystery to the public that pays his salary. The reason? First Selectman Ed Haberek refuses to release the personnel records sought by The Day under the Freedom of Information Act.  Read more

- The Day, New London, Conn.


Still waiting for answers on police raid shooting
   It's been more than a month since Eurie Stamps Sr. was killed during a midnight drug raid at his Framingham home by a SWAT team, and we're still waiting for answers, including to the most basic question: Who shot Eurie Stamps?
   Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone has promised a full report. Meanwhile, some information is coming to light. Two days after receiving notification that the MetroWest Daily News was challenging a court ruling, made at the district attorney's request, that sealed documents relating to the case, Leone's office asked the judge to unseal search warrants and other documents related to the raid. That was done yesterday afternoon.
   The intervention of Daily News attorneys shouldn't have been necessary. The law presumes judicial documents are public records, recognizing the importance of transparency. The search warrants in question contained no information compromising any ongoing investigations - and if they had, that information could have been withheld. As it stands, the name of a person believed to be dealing drugs with Joseph Bushfan, who was arrested in the raid, was blacked out in the released documents, which presumably protects some part of the investigation.  Read more 

- The MetroWest Daily News


State looking at release of plate numbers to columnist    
   HARTFORD, Conn. - The state's Auditors of Public Accounts are reviewing a whistleblower complaint about a top aide to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who released federally and state-protected license plate numbers to a columnist.
   Robert Ward, the Republican auditor, confirmed that he and the Democratic auditor received a complaint this week that was referred to them by Attorney General George Jepsen. The auditors and Jepsen cannot reveal the name of the complainant for confidentiality reasons, but Republican State Chairman Chris Healy has sent letters to the U.S. attorney, chief state's attorney and the attorney general seeking investigations.
    The senior Malloy adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, has said he didn't realize the dozens of low-numbered license plate registrations -- recently obtained by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her supporters -- that he passed along to Hartford Courant columnist and blogger Kevin Rennie were not public information.
Read more

- Susan Haigh, The Associated Press


Conservation law proposals a test for ME governor   
   "The LePage administration will have the most transparent transition process in Maine history."
   - Gov.-elect Paul LePage, quoted in a Nov. 6, 2010, story by The Associated Press

   Those were nice words to hear from our newly elected governor just four days after his election with 38 percent of the vote.
   But an early breaking of that promise appears to be shaping up over Gov. LePage's controversial proposal to roll back more than 30 years of environmental regulations and policies.
   You decide if that is so:
   The Conservation Law Foundation of Maine, under the state's Freedom of Access Act, on Jan. 28 asked the governor's office to turn over all public records related to his administration's statewide "red tape" tour, the six-page list of "Phase I of Governor's Regulatory Reform Proposals" and his nomination of Darryl Brown as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
   Sean Mahoney, director of CLF Maine, says the law foundation's interest stems from the odd disclosure by Brown just before his Jan. 25 nomination hearing that he had not seen the document, and was unaware of its contents.  Read more

- The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine


FOI officer sees no fault in deleted police videos
   MILFORD, Conn. - A state Freedom of Information hearing officer recommends that a complaint that the Milford police intentionally deleted more than 2,000 videos from dashboard cameras be dismissed.
   Commissioner Sherman London said in a draft decision released Wednesday afternoon that he found "no credible evidence" the erasure was intentional, and that police turned over all of the available video sought by the families of two teens killed in a crash with a Milford police cruiser in June 2009.
   Attorney R. Bartley Halloran filed the FOI complaint on behalf of his clients, Frank and Susan Servin of Orange, whose son, David, was killed along with his girlfriend, Ashlie Krakowski, in the early morning collision on the Boston Post Road in Orange.   Read more

- Frank Juliana, Connecticut Post, Bridgeport


State FOI panel again tosses complaints against town 
   BRIDGEWATER, Conn - Once more the state Freedom of Information Commission has dismissed complaints against Bridgewater First Selectman Bill Stuart and the town.
   In two final decisions it handed down Jan. 28, the commission threw out complaints brought by New Milford attorney Paul Garlasco about his attempts to procure documents from the town.
    Garlasco launched a campaign against Stuart in 2008 and has brought repeated suits and FOI complaints against him and the town since then.  Read more

- Susan Tuz, The News-Tiimes, Danbury, Conn.


Should adoption records be opened to adoptees?      
    In coming months, the legislative Judiciary Committee will consider opening up adoption records, a step that would allow children put up for adoption to find their birth parents.
   As it stands, in Connecticut a child is permitted to see only a second birth certificate that lists the adoptive parents. In 2006, the legislature approved a measure to allowed adoptees to see their original birth certificate, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
   The issue has been revived in the current session of the legislature. A primary supporter is the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents, or CAFAP, whose outreach social worker and legislative liaison is Carolyn Goodridge. She is also president of the Connecticut Council on Adoption.
   Goodridge began her career as a social worker for the agency that is now Connecticut's Department of Children and Families. She worked with children in foster care and followed up with children in adoptive homes. After she married and moved to Maine, she worked for a non-profit agency placing older foster children in adoptive homes.  Read more

 - Connecticut Law Tribune


Editorial: Adoptees have the right to know      
   As far as leads go, what Judy Mahar had was skimpy.
   The social worker at the adoption agency that placed her 44 years ago wanted to help Mahar find her biological parents -- really she did. Yet all she revealed was that the woman had a "very short last name," Mahar recalls, "that it was at the beginning of the alphabet, that it was an unusual name and that she had three stepbrothers." And one last thing, that Mahar's mom was from Fairfield County.
   That conversation took place in the late 1990s when the Internet and social networking were in their infancy. Mahar didn't have a lot to go on. She spent weeks, then months and eventually more than half a year ensconced in the reference room at the Connecticut State Library. There, she plowed through old city directories, a treasure trove of history that list the names of people living at specific addresses, and sometimes their occupations, and she combed through high school yearbooks, too.  Read more

- Connecticut Post


AG's office looking at Brockton water commission   
   BROCKTON, Mass. - The state attorney general's office is investigating the Water Commission after residents complained that a closed-door session on Aug. 30 violated the state Open Meeting Law.
   In a letter to the commission dated Jan. 27, state investigators requested a trove of records, including a copy of the public notice for the meeting, minutes, audio recordings, e-mails and any other written correspondence about the session.
   The meeting took place as the city Water Department, which the commission oversees, faced mounting criticism after residents received inaccurate water bills as high as $100,000.
   During a public hearing on the billing issues held at the Mary E. Baker Elementary School last week, city resident Marianne Silva said the closed-door meeting was one part of a larger problem in the city.
   "To us, it's another small piece of the puzzle that leads to the big mess," said Silva, one of four residents who lodged the complaint with Attorney General Martha Coakley.   Read more

- Amy Littlefield, The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.


State orders city to release records to Eagle-Tribune   
   LAWRENCE, Mass. - The state agency that oversees the state's Public Records Law has directed the city to release documents The Eagle-Tribune is seeking from two city agencies or face intervention by the attorney general.
   The newspaper filed requests for copies of records held by the Police Department and Licensing Board as part of its effort to examine issues surrounding the increasing violence in Lawrence since the city laid off 24 police officers last summer.
   On Dec. 15, the newspaper requested Police Department incident reports involving felony assaults over the last year. On Jan. 5, the paper asked to view Licensing Board files for 16 local bars and clubs, including some that have been epicenters of violence in recent months. Both requests were made under the Public Records Law and referred to City Attorney Charles Boddy.
   Boddy did not respond to either request.  Read more

- Keith Eddings, Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, Mass.


Editorial: VT lawmakers must improve transparency  
   This is a simple issue. Lawmakers must take the opportunity before them this session to make simple changes to the state's open records law that can have a decisive impact on government transparency.
   The lawmakers must focus on this goal: greater accountability. They owe this accountability to Vermonters. The changes they need to make are simple.
   The Legislature must significantly reduce the 230 exceptions to the state's public records and meeting laws. The Legislature must create a system under which government officials face real consequences for a pattern of behavior that goes against public accountability.
    Recent events show how closed-door government that lacks accountability hurts the broad interest of Vermonters.  Read more

- The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press


AG won't investigate, says complaint filed too late   
   SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. - The state attorney general has declined to investigate multiple alleged Open Meeting Law violations against the town, saying that the complaint was filed too late.
   Resident Nancy Vargas filed a complaint in December 2010 in which she alleged that local officials misused funds and violated the Open Meeting Law while the Municipal Facilities Committee conducted the design phase for improvements to the police station between 2006 and 2009.
   She said some members of the committee, of which she was a member, as well as a town staffer and a selectman, had varying degrees of involvement in a hidden agenda to steer the town into building a new station instead of considering other ideas.
   Vargas requested e-mails between the involved parties in October 2009, and said after 10 weeks of analysis she determined that she and the town had been deprived of information and policy discussion that should have been part of the public process.  Read more

- Ashley Studley, The MetroWest Daily News


Kudos for taking 'secret' out of U.S. Senate bill holds 
   When we announced Sunday that our editorial board had made open government one of our six Focus 2011 items - issues we intend to monitor and advocate for with some regularity this year - we didn't necessarily think we would be writing about it so soon.
   But something happened late last week in Congress that is worthy of everyone's attention - in a good way, no less.
   On Thursday night, the Senate voted, 92-4, to end that chamber's reprehensible practice of permitting an individual senator to put a "secret hold" on a piece of legislation or a presidential nomination, thereby preventing it from coming to the floor for action.
   To be clear, the vote does not stop a single senator from placing a hold on bills or nominations; it just means that senator is now required to state his or her objections in writing for the Congressional Record within two days of doing so.  Read more

- The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.


What's behind spike in parent donations to BC? 
   Parent donations increased nearly 400 percent from fiscal years 2008-2009 to 2009-2010. While this may be a cause for celebration in the development office, it should be a cause for suspicion among the rest of us. An increase from almost $8 million to almost $35 million in one year, and an increase of almost $20 million from the previous high should lead us to ask, "Where exactly did this money come from?"
   A "parent" is any parent of an undergraduate or graduate student either past or present who did not attend Boston College. The definition of "parent" has not changed since the last fiscal year so a broader definition of the term, and the reorganizing of figures that would accompany it, could not possibly account for this spike in parent donations.
   We know, then, that the increase in donations is indeed genuine. There is more money coming from the same group of people: those who are paying or have paid one of the highest tuition bills in the state of Massachusetts.  Read more

- Joseph Pasquinelli, The Heights, Boston College


Brockton councilor wants texting ban at meetings
   BROCKTON, Mass. - Peeking at a laptop or text messaging on a cellphone could get Brockton city councilors ejected from council meetings.
   This stern penalty is the idea of Ward 2 Councilor Thomas Monahan, who said the policy would set a standard for decorum, reduce disruptions, and ensure members are not violating the state's Open Meeting Law.
   "I have seen other councils around the country look into the same matter, and it seems to be a gray area,'' he said. "I just think that in these times of government transparency that even if we are not in violation, we do not want to even give the slightest perception that we may be.''
   Under the policy, councilors could not send text messages, e-mail, or other communication during a meeting on issues before them, and they would be prohibited from using computers during meetings. Violators could be ordered from the room by the council president for the remainder of the meeting.
Read more

- Michelle Morgan Bolton, The Boston Globe


RFK records would offer way through myth to truth
   Robert F. Kennedy played a critical role in American history when he served his brother, President John F. Kennedy, as US attorney general. Shouldn't the public have access to records from his Camelot days?
   It doesn't and has no legal right to them, according to Greg Craig, a Kennedy family friend and high-powered Washington lawyer who is advising RFK family members on the matter.
   As The Globe's Bryan Bender recently reported, 54 crates of documents generated by Robert Kennedy are stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester. They are so closely guarded that even the library director can't look at them. Historians say the documents include important Cold War information: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and details about RFK's role in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro.
   No one can review any of it, unless Max Kennedy - Robert Kennedy's ninth child - gives permission. And, said Craig, "There is no legal obligation to make them public.''   Read more

     - Joan Vennochi, The Boston Globe


Power plant's records request fair or 'fishing expedition'?    
   More than most businesses, The Enterprise understands and appreciates the need for access to public records. We have sought numerous public records over the years in an ongoing effort to keep sunlight shining in the communities we cover. If someone has something to hide, The Enterprise and other news operations are generally on the front lines of trying to uncover what is being hidden.
   But other businesses have other reasons for seeking public records. And while we would defend every effort to keep public records public - and at a reasonable cost to whomever is making the request - we would be wary of requests that have hidden agendas.
   That happens when small communities are buried under an avalanche of requests in an effort to influence public officials' decisions or to hamper projects. On the flip side, we also would cast a suspicious eye on public officials who accuse some requests of being nefarious.
   With this background in place, we are trying to put in context Advanced Power's massive request for public records relating to its attempt to build a controversial power plant on Oak Hill Way in Brockton.
Read more

     - The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.


RI state police info guidelines draw cries of foul
   PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Rhode Island State Police have issued new written guidelines to codify their practice regarding the release of information about crimes and incidents they investigate and the people who are charged. They appear on their face to liberalize internal guidelines that the state police have had in effect for years, making it clear that the only information about an arrest that automatically will be redacted from a report is a subject's Social Security number.
   But open-government groups are crying foul, expressing "deep concern" that the new regulations, which go into effect Feb. 3, "would significantly restrict the information publicly available from the state Department of Public Safety." They are also attacking "the questionable process by which the regulations were adopted."
   Lisa Holley, legal counsel for the state police, says she realizes that some people may think that the revised regulations appear to be a retrenchment in terms of what the state police will be making public. But she says this will not be the case; the rules, which all state agencies have been directed to put in writing, merely codify a current practice for release of information that has been in effect for years.  Read more 

- Tracy Breton, Providence (RI) Journal


NH considers requirement for multi-lingual signs
   State Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson, drew fire from Democrats last week for the way he defended his proposed legislation regarding foreign language signs in the Granite State. Ulery has filed a bill that requires any shop with signs in a language other than English to also post signs in the six official languages of the United Nations: English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.
   When the New Hampshire Union Leader asked Ulery about the bill, he alluded to the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
   "When you establish a ghetto, you're leaving yourself open to what happened to the Jews in Eastern Europe because you're setting yourself up to be different," he said.
   Ulery dug himself into an even deeper hole when he tried to explain to FOX News: "What I was trying to convey is when you do not participate in your society around you, and when you become different, you become subject to what the Nazis did to the Jews."  Read more

- The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.


  NEFAC plays host to the National Freedom of Information Coalition's 2011 conference at the Biltmore in Providence, R.I., May 20-21. Watch for separate mailings with details on the agenda, hotel reservations.
Comments welcome.
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