NEFAC logo 11-11The NEFAC Report
New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch
Prepared by the New England First Amendment Coalition in partnership with Northeastern University                                   May 2012
   The monthly NEFAC Report monitors 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.
Records from 2004 MA school abuse case still hidden
   School districts and their employees have legitimate rights to privacy, but parents, teachers, and the community at large also have legitimate rights to information under certain extraordinary circumstances. The abuse allegations lodged against Scott Muir when he was working as a student center support coordinator in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District would qualify as extraordinary circumstances but the rights of the public at large haven't been addressed.
   The district has denied the Eagle's request for records of its 2004 investigation into allegations lodged against Mr. Muir. He was not charged at the time but now faces charges involving rape and indecent assault on a child under 14 in connection with the same students of eight years ago and a third who came forward in March. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Read more

- The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass.  


Cokely would clarify meaning of "intentional violation"
   Attorney General Martha Coakley is trying to clarify what it means to violate the Open Meeting Law intentionally, an offense that can cost government boards a $1,000 fine.
   The state law, updated in 2010, allows such fines only for intentional violations. Since late last year, Coakley has sought to pin down what that means.
   She proposed on Monday to define an intentional violation as when a board or a member acts with "specific intent" to break the law or "deliberate ignorance" of its requirements.
   Those standards would come on top of what is now the only situation now defined as an intentional violation: When boards are informed beforehand by a court decision or advice from the attorney general that their actions would violate the law.  Read more

- David Riley, The MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass.  


Checkups show police doing better opening logs to public
   The Southbridge police log -- its thick sheaf of printouts detailing several weeks worth of arrests, vehicle stops and reports of break-ins, assaults and other crimes - is encased in a new loose-leaf binder and is freely available to anyone around the clock on a counter in the police station's front lobby.
   It wasn't always this way.  
    As recently as two months ago, the log was not consistently open to the public, even though it is required to be by state law.
   During a Telegram & Gazette review in March of selected Central Massachusetts municipal police departments and state police barracks, Southbridge police officers and supervisors twice violated the law by denying the records to requesters, saying it was not available for public inspection.
Read more

- Shaun Sutner, Thomas Caywood, Gerard F. Russell, Worcester Telegram & Gazette   


School board hires lawyer to seal report paid for by public
   What's worse than a public body denying access to an investigator's report that was paid for with taxpayer money?
    Hiring a lawyer to fight the release of that investigator's report by spending even more of the taxpayers' money.
   That's the latest wrinkle in the running soap opera touched off by former Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District Superintendent Trevor Ebel, who resigned last month after an audit revealed the questionable use of the school district's credit card at out-of-town training conferences.
  Read more

  -The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.  


Mayor contends no council OK needed to approve pay raises
    Mayor Mark Boughton's assertion that he is empowered to approve some raises without City Council involvement does not mean that course of action is best for Danbury.
   In January, Boughton approved about 60 non-union raises -- most of them increasing pay rates by about 2.75 percent -- without any formal input from or knowledge of the City Council.  
   We agree with minority leader Tom Saadi, who said last week that a lack of public disclosure about the raises points to the need for council members to become more involved in such matters.
  Read more

  - Danbury (Conn.) News Times  


NH high court rules in favor of info agitator
    A judge wrongfully dismissed a Deerfield woman's right-to-know petition on the grounds that the town's violation wasn't intentional, the state Supreme Court has ruled. In turn, the case has been sent back to the Rockingham County Superior Court where a judge will decide whether the town should cover Harriet Cady's legal costs.  
    Cady has called it a victory in the case - one of many she has filed against the town of Deerfield - and a finding by the court that the town did violate the right-to-know law.  
   But the town's lawyer said the Supreme Court was merely clarifying a technicality in the case because town officials had already admitted they broke the law and even fixed the errors before Cady filed her petition.
Read more 

 - Tricia L. Naldony, Concord (N.H.) Monitor  


Federal judge seals threat letter inmate sent VT governor
   The federal justice system has gotten into the business, it seems, of protecting the public's delicate sensibilities by sealing a state prison inmate's letter threatening to do "horrific things" to Gov. Peter Shumlin and his family.
    Everyone can agree that a violent threat against loved ones is a horrible thing, but closing off court records is a completely different matter. The issue has everything to do with a court system that seems to make up rules willy-nilly about what the public can and cannot see.
   Federal Magistrate John Conroy admitted granting such secrecy was rare, but agreed with the prosecution's argument for secrecy which included the claim that the details of the threats were too inflammatory and gruesome to be made public.  Read more

- The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press   


AG faults town selectmen for doing business on retreat
    WENHAM, Mass. - Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has reprimanded the Board of Selectmen for violating open meeting laws at a four-hour retreat last June.
   Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic sent a letter to Town Hall last week, stating selectman should have posted more detail in their agenda for the Saturday meeting.
   Resident Michelle Bailey reported the violation to Coakley's office in August.
   At issue was the fact that selectmen made a decision regarding the plans to build a war memorial in town, a controversial subject at the time.   Read more

- Bethany Bray, The Salem (Mass.) News


Officer's use of info database investigated by CT state police
    Montville, Conn. - State police are investigating whether Lt. Leonard Bunnell, the town's highest-ranking officer, improperly used a state police computer database.
   Mayor Ronald McDaniel said Wednesday he was told of the investigation last month after a biannual audit of the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing system. The system not only provides in-state criminal justice data but also gives authorized users access to two national systems - the National Crime Information Center and the International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network.  Read more

- Izaskun E. Larraneta,  The Day, New London, Conn.    


No surprise: VT legislature looked at tightening public info
  The Legislature has entertained at least two bills this session that would tighten access to information in public records.
   Why is this no surprise?
   Granted, the bills, both consolidated into S. 189, deal with revisions to laws already on the books. One part of the bill clarifies what information could be kept confidential when court cases are referred for diversion. The other part calls for keeping certain information about victims - such as addresses and medical records - confidential when they apply to the victims compensation board.  Read more

- The Burlington Free Press    


Town's lawyer a no-show at recommended FOI training 
   STONINGTON, Conn. - When the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ruled in February that the town violated state law last year by refusing to release zoning enforcement officer Joe Larkin's union grievances, it ordered town officials to undergo training in the requirements of the state's freedom of information law.
   The commission also encouraged "in the strongest possible terms" that town labor attorney Michael Satti participate in the session after it criticized his handling of the case. Satti had advised the town not to release the grievances after The Day had requested them.
   But on Tuesday morning, when FOI public education officer Tom Hennick led the two-hour training session for a dozen town officials and employees at the police station, Satti was not in attendance.   Read more

- Joe Wojtas, The Day, New London, Conn.  


Stamford admits illegally withholding public documents  
  In a settlement reached last week with the state Freedom of Information Commission, the city attorney's office admitted it illegally withheld public documents four times last year.
   So the city's legal authority admitted it refused to make public records public. Illegally. Four times.
   Before the admission last week, the city attorney's office tried to stop a hearing on the matter by suing the Freedom of Information Commission with the help of three Hartford-area attorneys who work for a firm called Jorden Burt, where the hourly fee is $300.  Read more

- Angela Carella, The Advocate, Stamford, Conn.   


MA town pushes to broadcast all public meetings  
  DUDLEY, Mass - Selectmen last night adopted an open government policy that requires elected and appointed boards, commissions and committees to record and broadcast all public meetings on cable access television or the town website.
   "I'm hoping this board (policy) will help other boards to help them broadcast," Town Administrator Peter M. Jankowski said. "It's been difficult at times to motivate some to broadcast."
   Selectman Jonathan Ruda, who instigated the policy, was the lone dissenting vote after an amendment by Paul M. Joseph that he said defeats the purpose.  Read more

- Debbi LaPlaca, Worcester Telegram & Gazette    


Reversal of order keeps CT court on course toward openness
  When a Superior Court judge decided earlier this year to seal a case file in a lawsuit involving a sexual assault by a group of Madison middle school students, it appeared that the state court system was revisiting a controversial practice from the past.
   In 2002, this newspaper revealed a widespread pattern of secrecy in the state court systems, one in which case files were sealed not to protect the privacy of juveniles, but to spare well-connected adults from embarrassment.
   When Chase Rogers became chief justice in 2007, she pledged greater transparency. Most lawyers and free speech advocates give her high marks in that regard.
   And now the decision of a second Superior Court judge, Jonathan Silbert, to overturn the initial case-sealing decision in the high-profile Madison case has many bar members breathing a sigh of relief.  Read more

- Thomas Scheffey, Connecticut Law Tribune    


CT lawmakers deal with proposals touching on privacy
  The issue of who's watching ordinary citizens is becoming as omnipresent in the 2012 Connecticut legislature as the eye of the surveillance camera in so many parking lots, stores and other buildings.
   The most prominent example is a controversial bill to allow red-light enforcement cameras at intersections - a measure that continues to advance, despite its rejection every year that it's come up before.
   Next came a bill to commission a study into the possible use of radio-frequency identification technology - to use a computer "chip," stuck into cars, to catch unregistered or uninsured motorists. The proposal was killed in committee more than a week ago after opposition by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
   But there's still another example: It has to do with limiting use of the license plate scanners that local police departments have begun using to build up databases that can track any driver's movements over time. And the ACLU keeps banging away at it - not to kill it, but to pass it.  Read more

     - Jon Lender, Hartford Courant   


Coming in July: The NEFAC Report will have a new look and expanded content but the same message - people have the right to know what their elected and appointed officials are up to.
   The revamped Report will include the familiar monthly compilation of  stories from New England media on government's tendency to go opaque.
   But we'll include original reporting as well as the stories, experiences and commentaries you'd like to add to the conversation.  We look forward to hearing your voice.
   Something to say? Please share it with all of us. Contact Report editor Larry Laughlin ([email protected]).           
Comments welcome.
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