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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why access to e-mail matters

E-mails obtained by a Massachusetts House reporter indicated that members of the governor's administration had orchestrated the hiring of state Sen. Marian Walsh "as payback for being an early supporter," inflated the salary of the state job in question and modified the job description to compensate for her lack of technical expertise, Bruce Mohl wrote in a column for The MetroWest Daily News. However, the records weren't provided by the governor, who insists that he is not covered by the Public Records Law. The records, which forced Walsh to drop out of the running, were provided by the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority.

The emails that derailed state Sen. Marian Walsh's bid for a high-paying state authority job saw the light of day only because of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. It was one of those rare instances where transparency trumped politics as usual, where a law designed to reveal the inner workings of government actually worked.

The state's Public Records Law is generally weak and ineffective. Vast swaths of state government are exempt from the law and many documents are shielded from its reach by a growing list of legislatively approved exceptions. Many government officials ignore the law and others subvert it by improperly withholding documents or charging excessive fees to produce information. Which is why the Walsh case is so refreshing.

A State House reporter filed a public records request on March 20 for emails and other documents related to the senator's controversial appointment. Seven days later he received information contradicting the public statements of Walsh, the Patrick administration, and the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority, where Walsh was slated to become assistant executive director.

More here.

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