FRAMINGHAM – This week is the 17th annual Sunshine Week. The goal of the week is to highlight the need for transparency in government.
But Massachusetts has one of the worst records for access to public records in the United States.
While Massachusetts may be viewed as a very progressive state, it is not very progressive when it comes to access to public records – especially at the state level.
Under current state law, the governor’s office, the Legislature and the judiciary are all exempt from the state’s public records law. That means that the legislature conducts much of its business in secret.
So while the emails of Framingham City Councilors, Natick Select Board or School Committee members can be requested under a public record request, the emails of your state representatives or state senators can not.
And while emails from the Mayor of Framingham or the Town Manager in Ashland can be requested under a public records law, the emails of Governor Charlie Baker are exempt.
Who decided on the exemption? The same state representatives and senators, who are exempt.
According to a 2018 survey by the nonprofit investigative news project MuckRock, Massachusetts is just one of four states where legislators can deny access to their emails. The other states are Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.
With 2022 as an election year in Massachusetts, where voters will elect a new Governor and state representatives, now is the perfect year to hold candidates accountable and push for them to change the state’s public records law.
SOURCE is a member of the The New England First Amendment Coalition, which has been pushing for this change.
The Coalition defends, promotes and expands public access to government and the work it does. The coalition is a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of transparency in a democratic society. Its members include lawyers, journalists, historians, librarians and academicians, as well as private citizens and organizations whose core beliefs include the principles of the First Amendment. The coalition aspires to advance and protect the five freedoms of the First Amendment, and the principle of the public’s right to know, in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The American Society of News Editors launched Sunshine Week in 2005 as a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
The week-long celebration is held every March to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights.
One of the goal’s of sunshine week is to push for transparency in municipal government, public school systems, and any organization that receives, federal, state or local funding from taxpayers.
SOURCE’s editor and publisher is a member of several journalism organizations include the Society of Professional Journalists, which also fights for access to public records through the federal freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
SOURCE filed scores of FOIA requests during the pandemic to get access to how the City of Framingham was operating during the health crisis.
SOURCE also filed appeals with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to push the City to release the records when denied by the former Spicer administration.
Also during the pandemic, SOURCE filed an open meeting law complaint against the Spicer administration and the Framingham Board of Health. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office agreed with the digital news outlet that a violation occurred.
The goal of a news outlet is not only to report the news in a timely and accurate manner, but also to make documents, polices, and procedures of municipal and school government transparent and accountable.