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

Whose privacy is being protected?

Over at the New England First Amendment Center‘s blog, I’ve got a post on an interesting case involving the town of Nantucket. It seems that local officials wanted to keep a severance agreement under wraps — in order, they said, to protect the privacy of an employee they’d fired.

The local weekly, the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, filed a complaint, and last week the state ruled that the agreement must be made public.

As it turns out, the ex-employee was only too happy to tell her story. And, as is often the case, when government officials invoke privacy, what they’re really trying to do is avoid embarrassment for themselves.

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  1. Aaron Read

    Okay, I feel like a total bonehead here, but what's the big, embarrassing secret that the town was trying to cover up?Was it just that her firing was really a case of age discrimination and the severance package proves it? Neither your post nor the NI&M's article really makes it clear.I can get behind the overall sentiment at play here, namely that government transparency is crucial regardless of how big or small the "scandal" is. And I do agree that the fact that the paper had to drag the town into court over it is a shameful thing. I guess I'm just perplexed as to why the town was so hellbent to suppress this in the first place?

  2. LFNeilson

    Aaron asks a good question. They may have assumed that the ex-employee would not want the information disclosed and could hold them over the coals for releasing it.They figure that most people will simply yield to such an argument, which is why it’s important to challenge them.Of course, such a confidentiality claim should be a red flag for any good reporter.zzzzzzzzzzzz

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Without knowing more, we don’t know why the town didn’t want the settlement made public. What we do know is that the employee who was fired had no problem with it. Maybe local officials feared residents would be outraged that they’d paid a large settlement in order to get rid of someone who was well-regarded. But who knows?

  4. Aaron Read

    Hmph, so we're reduced to wild speculation? I guess the NI&M gets both a tip of the hat AND a wag of the finger…it’s great that they got the court order to force the Town to talk, but then they didn’t seem to ask any questions?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Aaron: The paper may be guilty of not reminding readers of what had gone on before. I would think the firing was a huge story at the time, and that would probably answer your questions.

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