Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Boston to Pay for Secret Meetings

Mushrooms, moles, mischief and misfeasance flourish in the dark. Liberty and democracy die without light.

Perhaps the $11,000 fine will make the point to the Boston City Council -- that is, except for the very dense President Michael Flaherty. An illegal meeting was in his office, but he dismissed the stern findings of Suffolk Superior Court Judge Nancy Staffier Holtz.

For 11 proven cases of holding key Council meetings in unannounced privacy, the fine came with a threat of criminal action through the Suffolk DA for any further spitting on the public. In response, Lord Flaherty said the case was "politically motivated" (the true battle cry of the cowardly guilty). He claimed that the Council "stands for good government and transparency." Finally, his Parthian shot was, ''In the interest of moving forward, I will recommend we adhere to the court's decision, and we will redouble our efforts with respect to the open meeting law."

He's so low on the accepting-personal-responsibility scale, perhaps he should join the Bush administration.

The judge did not provide wiggle room. Among her 20-page findings were:
  • 10 closed-door Council meeting discussing the Boston Redevelopment Authority's urban-renewal program (June 2003 through March 2005) and one this January to hide the biohazard exposure of Boston University lab workers.
  • "Flimsy excuses for violations."
  • "(F)oot dragging refusal to comply with its legal obligations."
  • Meetings "calculated to thwart the presumptive rights of the public."
  • A practice that "has been and no doubt remains ongoing."
  • Lawyers defending the suit never provided "a single reason" for the secretive sessions.
  • The Council "defends this 'it's none of your business' position by attempting to parse the language in the statute in such a way as to relieve it of its presumptive obligations to always act in the open."
The suit was by activist Shirley Kressel, then Council candidate Kevin McCrea and Kathleen Devine.

By the bye, as well as Massachusetts cities and towns, other New England governmental units have the same arrogance. Consider the Rhode Island open-meetings report and how Maine's governor fell off of his throne on the issue. As background, the Norfolk country DA's office has a PDF brochure that recaps the Massachusetts laws.

Flaherty thinks he's king, but some Councilors retain their egalantarianism. Felix Arroyo, for one spoke and voted against the secret sessions.''I really believe it's important we keep the public part of the decision-making process," he told the Globe. ''It is important the council not only comply with, but defend the open meeting law."

Grand Poo-Bah Flaherty may well try more such anti-democracy. My money's on the courts and the DA.

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