In Massachusetts, silence is literally golden

Deval Patrick

When state officials pay someone to go away, they often pay for that person’s silence, too. That’s what Boston Globe reporter Todd Wallack found in a review of “more than 150 large severance and settlement agreements signed by state agencies since 2005.”

More than half contained either a confidentialty or non-disparagement clause, and one in five contained both, Wallack reported in Sunday’s Globe. And the practice persists even though Attorney General Martha Coakley has ruled such clauses are illegal in most cases.

Wallack’s findings point to an unfortunate reality: Gov. Deval Patrick, despite his reformist credentials, is no more a fan of open government than his predecessors regarding information that could make him or his agency heads look bad.

As Wallack notes, it was a big deal when then-state treasurer Tim Cahill’s use of confidentiality agreements was exposed a few years ago. Now it turns out that the practice is far more widespread than anyone knew at the time.

Consider this story in context. In 2008, Colman Herman reported for CommonWealth Magazine that the public-records law was a shambles, and that Patrick — like his predecessors — had made it be known that he considered many of the executive branch’s actions to be exempt from the law,  a questionable proposition. (Note: I have contributed articles to CommonWealth, and my Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson is quoted in Herman’s story.)

Patrick was portrayed as having turned over records voluntarily despite his contention that he didn’t have to. But for advocates of open government, it’s clear that what’s needed in Massachusetts is root-and-branch reform. Anyone want to guess at the chances of that happening?

Update: Herman reports on some recent efforts to strengthen the law in a post for the New England First Amendment Center, but makes it clear that we’re a long way from true transparency.

Photo (cc) by Scott LaPierre via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

One thought on “In Massachusetts, silence is literally golden

  1. Jim McAvoy

    Wallack’s findings point to an unfortunate reality: Gov. Deval Patrick, despite his reformist credentials, is no more a fan of open government than his predecessors regarding information that could make him or his agency heads look bad.

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!!!!!!!!

    Good Lord, Dan. Anyone who thought Patrick was a “reformist” is either a fan of repeated lobotomies or simply a total idiot. I mean, haven’t we all learned how to tell when a politician is lying? HIS LIPS ARE MOVING!

    (ugh, I know you’re not explicitly saying that YOU believed he was a reformer, but the phrasing you used gives that strong impression. And to even claim that he had such credentials is disingenuous in the first place; he never did, and anyone who even took a cursory look at his history before he started campaigning would’ve immediately known that he was not a reformer and was lying through his teeth about being one.)

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