NEFAC logo 11-11The NEFAC Report
New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch

February 2012

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 Website  for the NEFAC blog, media updates from around New England, guides to the states' right-to-know laws, legal contacts and more.
Does public have access to salaries of utility bought by city?
   NASHUA, N.H. - Pennichuck Corp., through its bylaws, has agreed the salaries of its employees are a matter of public record, an attorney for The Telegraph argued Tuesday.
   "Pennichuck has voluntarily made itself subject to the Right-to-Know Law," said Rick Gagliuso, the attorney representing The Telegraph. "They made themselves subject to it through their bylaws."
   An attorney representing employees of Pennichuck Water Works who want their salaries to remain private argued those bylaws shouldn't apply to Pennichuck's subsidiaries, which as private companies aren't subject to open records law.  Read more                                      

- Patrick Meighan, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.


Telegraph background on access dispute:

Union suit asks court to separate private and public info 

Utility union obtains order blocking salary access 


Internet start-ups make FDA drug data accessible
   Public information does a lot more good when people can easily get to it. In 2010, the Federal Drug Administration received 759,000 reports of negative side effects from prescription drugs - up from 526,000 in 2008. These reports have been available to the public by filing a Freedom of Information Act request or by downloading raw quarterly data from the FDA's website, but this has required more time, energy, and technical expertise than most citizens have.
   Now, thanks to an enterprising start-up called AdverseEvents Inc., patients can search FDA records from what in the past has been an impenetrable database. Patients can now pore over so-called adverse-event reports - documenting symptoms ranging from dizziness to increased blood glucose to heart attacks - for 4,500 commonly prescribed drugs. Another startup, called Clarimed, tracks similar adverse reports to the FDA on 130,000 medical devices.   Read more                                      

- The Boston Globe    


Gabriele challenges city board colleagues on transparency
   STAMFORD, Conn. - Here's to Sal Gabriele. The Republican member of the Board of Representatives is no stranger to tussling with his colleagues in city government, as anyone who follows city news already knows.
   In his latest battle, we're provided the too-rare sight of a public figure standing up for greater transparency in government -- and meaning it.
   Mr. Gabriele has filed a complaint against his own board with the state Freedom of Information Commission, charging that the board's leadership violated FOI law last year by discussing, signing and sending a letter related to city business without holding a public meeting.  Read more

- Stamford (Conn.) Advocate   


Free speech or a violation? Attack website fine appealed
   AUGUSTA, Maine - A controversial website aimed at helping to defeat Eliot Cutler in the 2010 race for governor was constitutionally protected political speech, according to arguments filed in federal court Thursday.
   And the political consultant who anonymously posted The Cutler Files was only following in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, according to the filing by consultant Dennis Bailey's attorneys.
   "There is a long tradition of anonymous and pseudonymous journalism dating back to the founding era, and it is a vital part of our nation's history," it says.
   Attorneys for Bailey submitted the written arguments to U.S. District Court in Portland as part of their effort to overturn a $200 fine against Bailey that they say will chill free speech.
   The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices imposed the fine because Bailey was working for a rival candidate at the time and, it said, should have identified himself as the person behind the website.  Read more                                      

- John Richardson, Morning Sentinel, Waterville, Maine    


Address imbalance - allow cameras in U.S. Supreme Court
   A bit of good news for those of us keen on open government: The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted 11 to 7 to allow television cameras into the Supreme Court.
   The text of Senate Bill 1945 is short and sweet. It would insert into the U.S. Code the following line:
   The Supreme Court shall permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.
   Simple, and it could solve the gross misbalance in the importance-to-access ratio of the court. The Supreme Court is all but actively hostile to permanent fixations of its proceedings: no cameras, no television.  Audio only became readily available in 2010.  But it's also the court with the largest pool of potentially interested citizens - its rulings can affect every man, woman, and child in the country.  Read more

- Arthur Bright, Citizen Media Law Project 


More on the proposal: 

VT Sen. Leahy on cameras in court bill - VtDigger   

Under fire, school board member defends sideline behavior 
   CONWAY, N.H. - School board member Randy Davison defended his behavior in the stands of school sports games on Wednesday, saying he's done nothing wrong.
   "I'm no more boisterous than any other person out there," he said.
   His remarks come just days before the school is set to release more than 20 pages of letters and e-mails complaining about Davison, a school board member, and his behavior at sporting events. These are documents a superior court judge ruled the school had to release under open government laws.
   Some of the documents are short e-mails, Davison said, and not nearly as weighty as the number would suggest.
   And regardless, he said, he doesn't intend to change his behavior because he doesn't think his behavior is out of line.  Read more                                    

-Erik Eisele,  The Conway (N.H.) Daily Sun


Selectmen say right-to-know violation unintended
   MARLBOROUGH, N.H. - A selectman says the board never intentionally violated the right-to-know law, even though Cheshire County Superior Court Judge Phillip P. Mangones cited nine violations in a recent decision.
   John Northcott said board members are taking measures to avoid such violations in the future.
   "There's no question, yeah, we've been too casual and that sort of thing," Northcott said.
   Mangones pointed to improperly posted meetings that included a discussion and decision to study regional resources, unlawful meetings via email and the nondisclosure of minutes or the release of only partial minutes.
   "Nothing was done to be evasive or undercover," Northcott said. "Our intentions were never to deceive, but our actions were wrong and (the judge) cited those each as a violation."  Read more

- Meghan Pierce, New Hampshire Union Leader


Court proposes 10-day window for reporting search results   
   BERLIN, Vt. - A Vermont Supreme Court committee gave preliminary approval Friday afternoon to expanding the time police must file returns on search warrants with the courts.
   The proposed rule comes on the heels of a judicial report that shows police forgot or ignored returning search warrants in about one-third of the 1,273 documented cases last year.
   The search warrants returns, which include an inventory of items seized by police, are supposed to be filed "promptly." The Vermont Criminal Rules Committee agreed Friday to allow police 10 business days after a search to provide the paperwork to the court.
   "I think you will see a marked improvement," said Committee Chairman P. Scott McGee, a Norwich lawyer.  Read more                                                   

- Mike Donoghue, The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press  



FOI commission lawyer says town needs remedial training  
   A town should realize it has a serious problem when an attorney, well paid to provide legal advice on handling requests for public information, is doing such a poor job that a Freedom of Information Commission attorney takes the extraordinary step of saying the attorney needs more training.
   But such is the case in Stonington where the town's latest attempt to block access to obviously public information so concerned FOI attorney Victor R. Perpetua that he suggested that not only should town officials receive educational training about the FOI Act, but town labor attorney Michael Satti needs to as well.
   Mr. Perpetua served as the hearing officer in the FOI case involving a complaint filed by Day staff writer Joe Wojtas. Back in May, Mr. Wojtas appealed to the commission after Stonington refused to release a union grievance that Zoning Enforcement Officer Joe Larkin filed after the town cut his position to part-time. It is well established law in the state that such grievances are public records, yet Mr. Satti used some sham legal arguments to persuade town officials to block the release.   Read more                                                      

- The Day, New London, Conn.  



Proposal calls into question mindset of VT legislators  
   The Legislature is still at it.
   A bill introduced last year by Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, and languishing in the Senate Government Operations Committee would make confidential "Records of internal investigations of a law enforcement officer preformed by the law enforcement officer's employer."
   In plain English, the public would no longer have access to information about investigation of police officers accused of wrongdoing conducted by the department or town. The bill seeks to extend the same shroud of secrecy that currently protects the State Police from full public accountability.  Read more

  - The Burlington Free Press  


ME housing authority sessions becoming "a circus" 
   If you're looking for some reality TV, you might attend the next monthly meeting of the Maine State House Authority board.
   Since November, when four new appointees of Gov. Paul LePage created a Republican majority, the meetings have resembled, to put it mildly, a circus.
   Last week, Chairman Peter Anastos, a hotel developer, opened with a 45-minute harangue of Director Dale McCormick and agency staff. The charge: the Maine Heritage Policy Center wasn't getting Freedom of Information documents fast enough.
   Maine Heritage, working hand-in-glove with the LePage administration, asked for MSHA financial transactions for the past 13 years -- 80,000 documents, which have to be individually reviewed to remove identifying information.  Read more

  - Doug Rooks, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine  


Documents reveal conflict at CT housing authority  
   ANSONIA, Conn. - While James Finnucan was in charge of the Ansonia Housing Authority, his family also collected rent from tenants in a Section 8 apartment the Finnucans owned, the Valley Independent Sentinel has learned.
   The arrangement was a conflict of interest and Finnucan should have resigned or sought a waiver, according to the regulations of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
   However, Finnucan never sought a waiver and he didn't resign until Dec. 28, 2011 - 17 months after Ansonia Housing Authority employee Gwen Archer first complained about the situation.
   Finnucan was Archer's boss at the Ansonia Housing Authority.
   Documents obtained by the Valley Independent Sentinel show that Archer allegedly complained about the conflict of interest on several occasions, starting in July 2010.   Read more

  - Jodie Modzer, Valley Independent Sentinel, Ansonia, Conn. 


Kennedy Greenway yields on transparency, releases data 
   The chief of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy released her contract, employee salaries and other records last night, after at least 18 months of tensions with state officials over fiscal transparency and spending levels - given that taxpayers fund half the nonprofit's $4.7 million annual budget to oversee the 15-acre downtown park.
   The documents dump - by email to the state Department of Transportation after business hours last night and copied to the Herald - came a day after MassDOT chief Richard Davey wrote to Greenway Executive Director Nancy Brennan, expressing concern about "transparency" and seeking the records by the close of business Wednesday.
   The issue was pushed to a crisis after Brennan accidentally sent the Herald an email Tuesday that was intended for her publicist, asking whether she should attempt to dodge a reporter's request for her current salary.  Read more

- Erin Smith and Richard Weir, Boston Herald  


More on Greenway transparency

Editorial: Just open the books - Boston Herald  


ME sheriff's tip-off of suspect raises trust issues
   Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith has taken a firm and ethical stand in announcing that he will end his affiliation with the Maine Sheriffs' Association if Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross continues as the organization's president.
   The mission of the nonprofit Maine Sheriffs' Association is to raise "the level of professionalism in the criminal justice field." Sheriff Smith doesn't believe Sheriff Ross is committed to that mission, and wants Ross tossed.
   It seems Smith has cause to doubt Ross' professionalism.
   In November, hours before his friend the Rev. Robert Carlson leaped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, Ross twice spoke with the reverend by phone, telling Carlson that he was under state police investigation.  Read more

- Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine  


More on tip-off case: 

Ross explains call to Carlson in TV interview - WABI-TV 

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