Lawyering up to suppress public records

The ongoing outrage that is the Essex Regional Retirement Board continues. According to Salem News reporter Chris Cassidy, the board plans to increase its spending on legal fees by $150,000 in 2010. Why? To fight media requests for public records.

Blaming the press for the spending increase, chief operating officer Lilli Gilligan is quoted as saying, “It’s all because of the media attention this office has gotten in the past year.”

But as Cassidy observes, much of the board’s energy and money is wasted on trying to come up with excuses not to release documents that are clearly public. For instance, Cassidy writes:

When The Salem News in 2007 requested access to the two most recent years of the board’s meeting minutes — documents that cities and towns routinely post on their Web sites — the board … enlisted its lawyers.

A Boston law firm responded 18 days later, advising it was “reviewing the meeting minutes requested to determine which portions of the minutes might be exempt from disclosure pursuant to the Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Law.”

The minutes arrived two days later — nearly three weeks after the initial request was made.

For background on the Essex board, see these earlier posts.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Lawyering up to suppress public records

  1. LFNeilson

    Someone who fights to keep public records secret is either totally ignorant of public access laws or possibly trying to hide something. I’d be interested in seeing the payment record to the law firm, and I’d certainly go into snoop mode regarding the operation of this board. I’d take all the numbers from several years and study the changes, year to year. Even if there’s nothing going on, it’s good for any board to realize that someone is watching. Never, never give up and walk away.

  2. Harrybosch

    In Massachusetts, there are more of them than there are of us, more people feeding at the public trough than paying in. It is no surprise that the largest employer in the State of Massachusetts is the State of Massachusetts.

    Throw in all the people that work for cities and towns, the public school teachers, the state college system, quasi-public “authorities,” and the parasitic “private sector” companies that feed off this host, and this is what you get.

    Bloomberg recently highlighted that other ticking time bomb, the trillion dollars in unfunded pension liabilities that states have promised to retirees. It will make the recent bank bailout and stimulus package look like chump change.

  3. Newshound

    This is so absurd and irritating. The board itself is responsible for contracting with the expensive lawyers and wasting retirees’ money recklessly and selfishly. It is a horrible disservice.

    If they don’t know how to run a board and keep legitimate meeting minutes without expensive legal assistance, they should resign and allow competent people to serve.

    I agree with Larz completely. With the help of exposure in the newspaper, member retirees may make an effort to seek office and receive support for a major board change. Most of the board members have been there too long.

  4. Harrybosch

    “With the help of exposure in the newspaper, member retirees may make an effort to seek office and receive support for a major board change.”

    Not the ones who have recently had their retirement age reduced from 65 to 60. Those members are no doubt quite supportive of this board.

    And who knows what other promises have been made, what other goodies they’ve got coming to their membership?

    There’s a reason the board wants to keep these documents shrouded in secrecy. But there’s also a reason the membership keeps returning these people to the board.

  5. lkcape

    They may or may not have a valid reason for the review, only time will tell.

    They have, however, ensured that the scrutiny will be intense and relentless.

    Not exactly what they had in mind.

    Ironic justice, eh what?

  6. Newshound

    Harry – perhaps you could shed more light on what you are referring to.

    I believe municipal employees are entitled to retirement at age 55. Maybe there are differences in the various counties.

    In any case, a group of retirees should attempt to organize to examine detail of all administrative disbursements.

  7. Harrybosch

    “Harry – perhaps you could shed more light on what you are referring to.”

    Follow the link in Dan’s post back to his other posts on the subject. It will reveal all.

    “I believe municipal employees are entitled to retirement at age 55. Maybe there are differences in the various counties.”

    There is no set standard for when municipal employees are “entitled to retirement.” It varies from union to union, from municipality to municipality.

    But the fact that “municipal employees” are entitled to retire any earlier than are the rest of us should be fodder for revolution.

Comments are closed.