Chuck Turner and open government

Dan Kennedy

By Dan Kennedy

Embattled Boston city councilor Chuck Turner emerged this week as an unlikely champion of open government by refusing to allow his colleagues to decide his fate behind closed doors.

Council president Maureen Feeney had called for an executive session to discuss federal charges against Turner alleging that he had accepted a $1,000 bribe in return for his help in obtaining a liquor license. Feeney appeared to be invoking a section in the state’s Open Meeting Law that allows for an executive session in order —

To consider the discipline or dismissal of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual, provided that the individual involved in such executive session pursuant to this clause has been notified in writing by the governmental body at least forty-eight hours prior to the proposed executive session.

But Turner demanded that the meeting be held in open session, and he vowed to pack the council chamber with his supporters. To continue quoting from the law:

A governmental body shall hold an open meeting if the individual involved requests that the meeting be open.

Among other things, the law also makes clear that Turner would have the right “to speak in his own behalf.”

Feeney canceled the meeting, according to Boston Globe reporter John C. Drake, because she was concerned that Turner intended to turn it into “political theater.”

No doubt Feeney was right about Turner’s intentions. But that happens sometimes when the public’s business is conducted in public, as it should be. It’s too bad that Feeney doesn’t get that.


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5 Responses to “Chuck Turner and open government”

  1. JackB Says:

    Turner clearly has an abiding interest in open government that extends well beyond this particular city council meeting. Open wallets and open checkbooks, for example, are greeted with open arms and lead to open doors.

  2. Judy Meredith Says:

    Every community activist knows that enforcement of the open meeting law is critical to our ability to successfully influence public policy. At the risk of self promotion, a long standing rule of the Public Policy Institute is to understand that “public policy makers make different decisions when watched by the affected constituency”

    I bet we spend half of our time finding those moments.

  3. Michael Pahre Says:

    Note that, even if the City Council had held the executive session, they would have had to preface it with an open meeting where the City Council declares the reason that they desire to hold an executive session, and then vote on whether or not to do so. Those are requirements of the OML, too.

    So Councilor Turner could’ve made a big mess of the open, preliminary session, anyway.

    And even if they had held that executive session, they would still have to take minutes — and then publish the minutes once the reason for the executive session had passed (e.g., after they have fully expelled Turner from the City Council). So we’d still find out what they talked about.

    But it’s not like the City Council seems to understand any of these fine details of the law. I do wish they would read it one of these days. They would realize how the OML ain’t so onerous, after all.

  4. kevin mccrea Says:

    Michael is right, however, if you go to the City Clerk’s office and ask for minutes of previous executive sessions you will see hardly anything to nothing there.
    In addition to not specifying why they go into executive sessions, saying things like “legal matters”, they also do a good job of not keeping minutes, so good luck finding out what they did talk about.

    The veil of secrecy is everywhere at City Hall and the State House

  5. thezak Says:

    Please look into the problematical lack of access to public meetings and public records of the Boston City Council.

    Boston City Council Staff Director Ann Braga and the office of the Council President haven’t been complying with Sunshine open public meetings principles and Freedom of Information FOI public records principles of open government.

    Minutes of public meetings of the Boston City Council are made into too brief an edited version to be understood by citizens interested in or concerned with proceedings and transactions at the public meetings. Boston City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk haven’t responded substantively and are in denial to concerns about the Council Minutes.

    Among a hundred or so Boston City Council staff the budgeted Council City Stenographer from E. Fritch Stenographic Associates hasn’t been making available the stenographic machine records of the public meetings and keep the stenographic machine records at home.

    Boston City Council central staff and Councilors’ staffs need better training and supervision on a continuing basis about Sunshine open public meetings principles and Freedom of Information FOI public records principles of open government.

    Boston City Council Staff Director emotionally extorts “cooperation” by threatening to take citizens off public mailing lists for public notices of the Council’s public meetings and Committees’ public meetings.

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