Our Opinion: Beacon Hill secrecy invites voter cynicism

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While Beacon Hill should be commended for the ability of its various members to regularly work together on key issues before the state, the unity in Boston on maintaining secrecy in government is not to be praised. That a special commission created two years ago to expand the state's public records law has packed it in without making any recommendations represents an embarrassing failure to end this institutional secrecy. Taxpayers often have reason for their cynicism about government, and this is one of them.

In late December, the two-year mandate of the Special Legislative Commission on Public Records ended when the group missed its deadline to file a final report making recommendations going forward. Massachusetts, a cradle of democracy which is also the only state in the union whose executive, legislative and judicial branches all claim total exemption from the state's own public records laws, will continue with a government that doesn't believe it is obligated to be transparent with its own citizenry.

"The Legislature has kicked the can down the road again, and with it it the public trust," assessed Mary Connaughton, the director of government transparency for the Pioneer Institute, in the Boston Globe.

Two years ago, to its credit, the Legislature overhauled the public records laws to ensure greater transparency in municipalities and state agencies. When the state police overtime pay scandal broke last month, it was easier to get at the nature of the abuses because of this reform. The Legislature, however, could not bring itself to introduce greater transparency into its own dealings, and no one in the judiciary or in the governor's office was lobbying lawmakers to make their fiefdoms more open to public view.

So the special commission made up largely of lawmakers and open-records advocates was created to expand the law to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. With the end of its tenure, the commission succeeded in kicking the can another two-years down the road but at nothing else. Worse, without the filing of a final report, residents don't even know what the points of disagreement were or if there were points of agreement upon which to build. At this point, no members of the commission have come forward individually to over insight into what the group was doing or not doing for two years before throwing its collective hands up and walking away.

This cannot be where the process ends, even if all parties would prefer that it did. Surely there are enough legislators of integrity in the House and Senate to put together a bill, based on the 2016 reform efforts and applying to the three branches of government, to bring before a committee. Spare residents any more studies or the formation of do-nothing commissions. The template for reform was created two years ago. The will to follow through must now be found. Until it does, taxpayers left in the dark can be forgiven for clinging to their cynicism.




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