The Boston City Council, having been found in violation of the state’s open-meeting law earlier this year, has come up with an all-too-typical response. According to Boston Herald reporter Ed Mason, council members today will take up an 80-page report that it commissioned urging the state to exempt them from the law.
Council president Maureen Feeney tells Mason that the law presents “challenges” and is “confusing.” Before I go any further, you should know that the law does nothing more than require governmental bodies such as the city council to conduct the public’s business in public, and to provide adequate notice of when its meetings will take place.
Councilor Michael Flaherty is quoted as saying that the law creates a “chilling effect,” claiming, “You can’t even have a conversation with colleagues in the hallway or in a session.” That’s an interesting observation. The law says that a quorum — that is, a majority — of members cannot discuss official business outside the context of a legal, publicly announced meeting.
If Flaherty had said, You can’t even have a conversation in the hallway with six or more colleagues about city business, that would be accurate. It would also underscore the absurdity of his complaint.
The law doesn’t even require public meetings when there is a good reason for them to be held behind closed doors. Various exceptions are allowed, most typically to discuss contract negotiations and lawsuits.
Any journalist, community activist or public watchdog who’s spent any time dealing with municipal government will tell you that the open-meeting law ought to be strengthened, especially with regard to punishing violators.
The law is a burden only to public officials who think the public is a burden.