By Gerard F. Russell, regional editor, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
In May, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette filed two complaints with the Sturbridge, Mass., Board of Selectmen – one over an executive session and the other over remote participation in an open meeting.
The board’s custom has been to invite residents to call selectmen at the end of their meeting and ask questions. The practice has been that selectmen repeat the callers’ questions to those in attendance and viewing on cable television.
In a May 13 meeting, one caller’s question was not repeated because, selectmen said, the question involved a personnel matter. The T&G complaint focused on the Open Meeting Law language that requires remote participation “to be audible” for those in attendance. Continue reading ‘Worcester Telegram & Gazette files 2 Open Meeting Law Complaints against Sturbridge selectmen in May’ »
By Dan Barrett, staff attorney, Vermont ACLU, and director, New England First Amendment Coalition
When a state contracts out a government function to a private contractor, does the contractor become subject to the state’s public records act? That’s the question posed by a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Vermont last week on behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly periodical.
For the last decade, Vermont has contracted with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to house some of its prisoners. CCA, the nation’s largest private prison corporation, houses the prisoners in facilities that it owns or operates, mainly in Tennessee and Kentucky, and provides them with everything that the Vermont Department of Corrections would — uniforms, health care, jobs, exercise facilities, mail, etc. Continue reading ‘Vermont suit questions whether private contractors are subject to open records law’ »
By Colman Herman, contributing writer, CommonWealth magazine
As someone who has filed many Massachusetts public records requests, I have developed certain narratives that help me get the records I need for my reporting. I would like to share them with you.
When public officials withhold documents, they must claim one of the numerous exemptions and, very importantly, they must explain how and why the exemption applies. To that end, in my public records requests, I remind officials of this obligation with the following statement.
” ‘If a records custodian claims an exemption and withholds a record, the records custodian has the burden of showing how the exemption applies to the record and why it should be withheld.’ (emphasis added) A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Division of Public Records, Updated March 2009, p. 1. A mere restatement of the wording of the exemption does not comply with the law.” Continue reading ‘Tips for making a public records request in Massachusetts’ »
By Anne Galloway, founder and editor, VTDigger
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The press corps and the Vermont chapter of the ACLU scored a major victory in the Vermont Legislature last week. Lawmakers approved a change in the public records law that gives citizens access to records associated with police investigations of criminal activity. Gov. Peter Shumlin supported opening police records to public scrutiny, and he is expected to sign the legislation into law this month.
The change in legislation is the result of several high-profile media lawsuits against local law enforcement, including the Wayne Burwell case, and an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Vermont ACLU that was supported by WCAX, VTDigger and other local news outlets.
Burwell was beaten, pepper sprayed, handcuffed and dragged out of his home by the Hartford Police Department in May 2010. When law enforcement officials realized their mistake, they let him go. Three news outlets sought police records from the incident, The Associated Press, the Valley News and VTDigger. The requests were all rejected on the grounds that the Burwell was still under investigation.
VTDigger and the Vermont ACLU sued. The case eventually went to the Vermont Supreme Court and last summer the justices ruled that all of the records collected in connection with the detention of Burwell be released. Because Burwell was not technically arrested, the ruling applied only to records created before an arrest. Continue reading ‘Vt. Legislature gives public access to police investigation records’ »