Local Legislators to File Bill Adding
Penalties to Public Records Law Violators
By: Tom Duggan – October 17, 2012 (2:30pm)
TOWN HALL, NORTH ANDOVER, MA
During a press conference today endorsing Karin Rhoton for the 14th Essex Rep. seat, Rhoton, Senator Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R) Gloucester, Representative Brad Hill (R) Ipswich, and Representative Brad Jones (R) North Reading, all said that they stand with the Valley Patriot’s constitutional right to public documents (MGL. Chapter 66) and pledged to file legislation “putting teeth” into the law, penalizing “individuals” who violate it.
Chapter 66 is the public records Law that requires public entities to release public documents within ten days of request by any member of the public. Currently the Valley Patriot has been waiting since February, 2012 for public records from the city of Lawrence. Despite an order from the Secretary of State’s Office and an Essex Superior Court Judge’s order the city of Lawrence has refused to turn over the documents.
“If the law is going to have integrity it has to be enforceable and it has to respected,” Senator Tarr said. “And to the extent that this law, like any other law is not being respected then, we need to revisit that in the next session. I know we are going to look at. I know we are going to try and find meaningful penalties so that the folks that are withholding information pay a consequence for violating the law and doing what appears to be a flagrant disregard for the law. That is not acceptable.”
At issue is The Valley Patriot’s proof that the City of Lawrence, and in particular City Attorney Charlie Boddy have refused to turn over documents pertaining to Lawrence School Department Employees double dipping under the direction of State Receiver Jeff Riley, and a full accounting of all public dollars paid to the DiADamo Law firm.
Representative Brad Hill said that some legislators have tried to discuss adding penalties to violations of the public records law but Democrats in House refused to let them even speak on it.
“I [said] in my comments that we need more transparency and a more balanced approach in the legislature so that we can actually debate these types of issues. For too long there are ideas out there that aren’t even allowed to be debated on the floor of the house. This is one of those. And that’s why we think Karin [Rhoton] is so important to the caucus, to bring balance so that we can offer these legislative ideas. We will not only be able to hear them in committee, but we’ll get to hear them on the floor of the House of Representatives. So, Yes, you do have my word that we will look at that.”
Representative Jones said he agreed with Senator Tarr on fining individuals.
“ I would echo what Brad said. Having been a local official, I think there are a lot of ways in approaching whether it’s a fine on the person who is specifically standing in the way of getting those records out. Particularly when it has already been indicated the people are entitled to those records.”
“I think Bruce is right, one of the things we are very fond of in the legislature is passing more laws but often times we have laws on the books that we are not taking advantage of and putting teeth behind to get the results we desire. So, I think you have a commitment, from my Bruce and Brad, the three B’s if you will, and Karin when she gets there, to look at this and try to come up with greater ways to putting more teeth [into the law], and quite frankly giving more tools to the people in charge of enforcing the law.”
Rhoton, who is the Republican candidate to replace outgoing Rep. David Torrisi (he was defeated in the primary) said that she would personally take the issue to Beacon Hill if she is elected.
“You have a constitutional right, we all do. It’s Freedom of the Press. Whenever anybody’s voice is suppressed it needs to be addressed immediately and forcefully. I am sorry that I am not your representative yet. I hope to be. If I am elected Nov 6th, I promise to be the representative to take your voice to Beacon Hill [on this issue] and tell them to address the situation, and work with my colleagues to address the situation, so that you are guaranteed your constitutional rights.”
Rhoton will face Democrat Diana DiZoglio of Methuen in the Final election on November 6th. Rhoton is a former member of the North Andover School Committee.