By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Turning the First Amendment on its head

Robert Ambrogi has posted a 36-page section of the report ordered up by the Boston City Council as part of its crusade to get out of having to comply with the state’s open-meeting law.

It’s hard to make out and I haven’t had a chance to go through it yet. But Ambrogi’s comments are on the mark, especially with respect to the councilors’ argument that the law impinges upon their own First Amendment rights:

How does that saying go about the devil reading the Bible to his own ends? That was all I could think of as I read a report arguing that the First Amendment gives Boston city councilors the right to conduct the people’s business behind closed doors….

The … premise is that this “prohibition” on private speech between public officials violates their free-speech rights. That is the most extreme contortion of the First Amendment I’ve ever heard or read.

Ambrogi concludes with a hope that councilors will send the report “straight to the circular file.” But that’s only going to happen if the press and the public pressures them to do so.

The original Boston Herald story made it pretty clear that some influential members, including president Maureen Feeney and former president Michael Flaherty, think weakening the public’s right to know is a neat idea.

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He still can’t write about it


The definition of hubris


  1. LFNeilson

    What the report ignores is that it is not so much a matter of the councillors right to speak as it is about the public’s right to listen to everything that is spoken by the councillors in their official capacity. If they cannot operate within the law, perhaps they are not qualified to sit on the council.When something like this comes up, I wonder what’s afoot. Is there something waiting in the wings that they want to bring up?– Larz

  2. the zak

    Please advocate improving Council communications and notices. Amend Council Rule 34 to detail the proper more universal format for Council communications and notices.It’s necessary that people interested in Boston City Council communications transcribe the Council communications and notices to plain ASCII text.Our Councilors, Council central staff, City Clerks office and Management Information Systems MIS haven’t made available plain ASCII text.The failure to provide more the universal format limits access for people with limited vision using vocalization software for example and makes access to the communications more difficult for people not using the same commercial products for PC type computers used at City Hall.

  3. the zak

    by Paul Joseph Walkowski, Special Projects AssistantReport to the President andCommittee on Rules and AdministrationAugust 2008Addressing the Effect of Judicial Decisions on the Boston City Council’s Operation and Statutory Independenceexcerpts transcribed at

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