Showing posts with label freedom of information act. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom of information act. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2022

“We have a lot of work to do, and we can’t spend our time responding to fantasies"

"On Election Day in Shutesbury, population 1,700, voters place their marked ballots into a narrow wooden box on their way out of town hall. With the turn of a crank and a “ding!” of a bell, each ballot gets passed through a wheeled mechanism and falls into a bottom compartment of the box. White numbers on the manual counter tick up by one: The ballot is counted.

So the town’s part-time clerk, Grace Bannasch, was confused when she began getting pummeled with public records requests demanding voting machine tapes and serial numbers, copies of digital ballots, and file names, all related to the November 2020 presidential election.

She’s not the only one. Municipal elections officials across Massachusetts have been bombarded with these types of requests, which elections experts and political scientists say stem from supporters of Donald Trump who believe there are documents that will prove widespread election fraud in the 2020 election.

The problem has become so pervasive that it’s caught the attention of Secretary of State William F. Galvin, whose office has contacted Attorney General Maura Healey and is working on a coordinated response."
Continue reading the Boston Globe article online (subscription may be required)

Franklin is also in this request cycle, as confirmed with an email from Town Clerk Nancy Danello:
"We get 2-3 sometimes more on a daily basis.  Some of the requests that are coming through are very time consuming... and the majority all have the same language and are looking for the exact same information.....  
But, we do our jobs to the best of our abilities with a smile on our faces :)"

The Shutesbury Town Hall is a former school house. Across the country, election officials and staff are facing requests for information, harassment, and even death threats. Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch is the sole election worker in the small town. LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF
The Shutesbury Town Hall is a former school house. Across the country, election officials and staff are facing requests for information, harassment, and even death threats. Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch is the sole election worker in the small town. LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

Saturday, July 2, 2022

New England Muzzle awards contain a local interest

"A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.

These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards."

The former Worcester city manager (Augustus) is now the Chancellor at Dean College.

New England Muzzle awards contain a local interest
New England Muzzle awards contain a local interest

Saturday, February 6, 2016

MA Senate Passes Public Records Reform Bill

Today (2/4/16) the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed legislation reforming how the state handles public records.  The legislation, originally sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, is the first update to the public records law since the early 1970s.

"An accessible, transparent government is fundamental to the democratic process," said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "This bill strengthens our public records law to improve access and make the process of requesting records simpler, clearer and more fair. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate and advocates on all sides of this issue for engaging in a collaborative effort to bring our public records law into the 21st century, while providing flexibility for municipalities and agencies."

The legislation will reduce costs for records requestors and ensure timely compliance with public records requests. The bill also brings Massachusetts in line with 47 other states and the federal government in allowing attorney's fees to be awarded to plaintiffs who are victorious in court when denied records. The bill requires attorney fees to be awarded, except in certain defined situations.

Under the legislation, each state agency and municipality is required to appoint at least one public records access officer to serve as the point of contact for all public records requests and coordinate a timely and thorough response.  The public records officer does not have to be a new employee. 

The bill limits the amount that state agencies and municipalities can charge for production of the records.  The limits are set at 5 cents per page for copies, down from 20 to 50 cents per page under current law, and the cost of a storage device.  The bill requires state agencies to provide four free hours of employee time and two free hours for municipalities. Charges for requests that require more time are limited to $25 per hour. 

The bill prohibits charging for records if the agency or municipality does not provide the record within 15 days of the request or does not respond to the requestor within ten days.  It also requires punitive damages up to $5,000 if a court determines the government entity did not act in good faith. 

Finally the bill requires state entities and encourages municipalities to post online many commonly requested public records.  In addition, records are required to be provided in electronic format unless requested otherwise.

The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor. 

Franklin Matters Note: this is a good improvement over the House version but still not enough. What will come out of the Senate House reconciliation remains to be seen.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The NSA Debate at TED

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”  Benjamin Franklin
As we live in the first community named for Ben, we should be as concerned about liberty and security as much as how Franklin will find funds to pay for our roads and other services. Hence, there are two important TED Talks from this week I will share here. Pull up a comfy spot (if you're not in one already) and spend about an hour with Edward Snowden and then the response from the NSA.

Edward Snowden at TED  "How we take back the Internet"

Richard Ledgett: "The NSA responds to Edward Snowden’s TED Talk"

"I would say the last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors, but we as individuals are born behind those same closed doors, and we don't have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don't have to give up our liberty to have security. And I think by working together we can have both open government and private lives, and I look forward to working with everyone around the world to see that happen."  Edward Snowden

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunshine Week

While many public officials are hesitant to share information about what the government is doing, what many Americans don't realize is that the business of public officials is highly accessible, especially when it comes to how taxpayers' dollars are spent.

To raise such awareness, the Daily News is participating in Sunshine Week, an annual project aimed at creating awareness about freedom of information and government secrecy.

A Daily News reporter hand-delivered written public record requests to several Milford and MetroWest town officials last month, asking for each one's three most recent town-issued cell phone bills.

How did Franklin fare?

Franklin Police Chief Stephen Williams also refused to provide complete bills.

Franklin Town Attorney Mark Cerel wrote a letter on Williams' behalf, explaining he would provide general billings, but not an itemized record.

"Public safety and security and personal privacy interests preclude making any of the records available," wrote Cerel. "There is a significant risk that he would inadvertently disclose an exempt telephone number in reviewing a high volume of calls, thereby creating a public safety and/or security risk or a personal privacy violation."

The town later provided general billings of all townwide-issued cell phones, which includes Williams' phone, free of charge. Franklin pays about $3,000 each month for all town employees' cell phones.

Read the full article in the Milford Daily News here.

This is a nice attempt to participate in "sunshine week". Rather than make an issue on the phone numbers themselves, I'd have preferred an analysis of the kinds of coverage the phones have.

Do they have basic phone service or a higher level of service?

Then you could have a discussion on what level of phone service is appropriate by department for a local community to provide.