AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, March 28, 2014
Open Meeting Law Violators Don't Worry
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 28, 2014
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
When I read
Sun Chronicle Editor Mike Kirby’s column on Sunday (as I always do) I was
amazed, dismayed, angry and upset.Not
by his column, but by what I learned from reading it.
I knew the
Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts contained little in the way of penalties for
those who violate it.But I had assumed
enforcement of this important statute had gotten tougher since responsibility
for it was transferred from the local district attorney to the state Attorney
clearly is not the case.
noted of the 512 complaints filed with the AG’s office in the last four years,
221 were found to be actual violations.Of those, only three – count ‘em, three – resulted in fines of $1000
each.Those fines were assessed against
the municipality, not against any of the offending officials personally.
In four years not one individual was held personally
accountable for any violation of the law that prevents public business from
being conducted away from the prying eyes of those pesky citizens.At first glance, you would think that has to
be some type of mistake.
you stop and remember that the Massachusetts legislature is specifically
exempted from the provisions of the OML, you begin to understand.How can the state’s highest law enforcement
officers significantly penalize local officials for something House members and
Senators are allowed to do on a regular basis?
learned there is a bill pending right now that would hold individual officials
responsible and create a special commission to study the possibility of
extending the law to cover the state legislature.Of course, on Beacon Hill the word “study” is
often merely a euphemism for the word “kill”, so no one should get their hopes
the remote possibility of creating transparency in our private club of a
legislature is something worth pursuing.Which is why area residents and voters should make it a point to contact
their local state representatives and senators to find out how they plan to
vote on this important legislation.
our local legislators acting on their own can do relatively little to advance a
bill most of their colleagues will no doubt oppose – though probably not
publicly.It is not good politics for
any legislator to come out against a bill that increases transparency and gives
the taxpayers more control.
So most will intimate they have fought the good
fight, secure in the knowledge those high up in their party’s leadership (who
truly control things) will take the heat for them.The bill is likely to be slowly swallowed up
by the legislative quicksand upon which the State House seems to be built, and
with it will most likely go all hopes for any true reform in the immediate
But we can’t stop trying or asking, because this is
far too important.So what can we as
ordinary citizens do, you ask?
It makes little to no sense that we have a law that
seeks to solve 351 separate problems by enforcing the OML in every city and
town, but does nothing to address the one gigantic problem in Boston – the
legislature.If we have the right to
expect our local government to operate openly, we certainly should demand no
less when it comes to our state government.There is no valid excuse.
So we can start by contacting our legislators and
asking for their help in passing this law.Ask not only for their vote, but for them to passionately campaign and
work for its passage.Request they reach
out to fellow lawmakers, to the House and Senate leaders, and anyone else who
might aid in this battle.
Talk is cheap.Demand action.Ask to know what
they are doing to try and help this bill pass.Don’t be diverted or distracted with political misdirection.If they oppose the bill, get their reasons
for doing so and if you disagree, explain why.
If you don’t know who your state representative or
senator is, look it up.Or email me and
I will look it up for you.This is that
And remember – if you don’t think transparency is
important, your elected officials won’t think so either.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at