Gov. Patrick and public records

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By Dan Kennedy

During his campaign for governor, Deval Patrick pledged to bring about a new era of civic engagement and open government. In his inaugural address, Patrick spoke of “a great movement based on shared responsibility from the corner office to the corner of your block and back again.”

Unfortunately, the governor’s lofty rhetoric has not been matched by his less-than-zealous support for the proposition that the public’s business ought to be conducted in public. In the new issue of CommonWealth Magazine, Colman Herman reports that Patrick has leaned heavily on a 1997 decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Lambert v. Judicial Nominating Council, to argue that his office is exempt from the Massachusetts Public Records Law.

According to the Patrick administration, the governor voluntarily complies with most requests for records despite his belief that he is exempt. But media lawyer Kimberly Keyes tells CommonWealth that Lambert was meant to apply only to personal questionnaires filled out by candidates for judicial appointments. (Disclosure: I am a contributing writer for CommonWealth.)

“Lambert was a narrow ruling, not a broad one,” says Keyes.

Republican governors such as Mitt Romney and Paul Cellucci reportedly took the same position. And Republican Party spokesman Barney Keller’s assertion that Patrick should be held to a higher standard because he, unlike Romney and Cellucci, embraced open government is silly on one level.

On another level, though, Patrick did, in fact, promise something better. Rather than cling to a legal interpretation that allows him to keep some public records a secret, Gov. Patrick should embrace openness, through his own actions when possible, and by filing legislation when necessary.

Dan Kennedy is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a frequent commentator on media issues. His blog, Media Nation, is online at Media Nation

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One Response to “Gov. Patrick and public records”

  1. don warner saklad Says:

    What’s the address for email for Colman Herman?…

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