Rep. O’Flaherty Digs Himself a Deeper Hole

Sadly, Rep. O'Flaherty's position makes little sense. I am sure what he says about some witnesses requesting anonymity is entirely true, and it is entirely appropriate for him, and for the Committee, to honor those requests. But what about the many witnesses who make no such request, and who instead testify in public, with the full expectation that spectators and news media may be present when they do? What possible justification is there for applying Rep. O'Flaherty's policy in those instances? Disappointing. - promoted by david

I hope I’m not violating a rule against multiple posts one one day, but I am on the warpath. I had sent Rep. O’Flaherty an email privately, asking him to reconsider his policy in somewhat more temperate terms than I did in my prior post. Here is my email and his response:

Me:

Dear Representative O’Flaherty,

I am the person who requested the testimony from the hearing on the Uniform Foreign-Court Money Judgment Act, concerning which you have been corresponding with David Kravitz. I appreciate that you took the time to respond to him, but I have to say that I think your committee’s policy lacks a real rationale and contributes to the perception that we do not have open, transparent, and accountable government on Beacon Hill. On the one hand, you point out that the hearing was public, and therefore, anyone was free to attend and listen to what was said. But on the other hand, you claim that witnesses with particularly sensitive testimony might be chilled if they knew their testimony was available to the public. I fail to see the logic of this. Moreover, I find it more or less impossible to believe that anyone who testified either for or against the UFCMJA could have had anything particularly sensitive to say.

I think you have an opportunity to take a more or less painless step that would win you lots of praise by making testimony, witness lists, etc., presumptively available to the public, subject to whatever exceptions you think are necessary in particularly sensitive cases. My strong view is that even in those cases testimony should be publicly available, but as a first step, I hope you will agree that there is no reason why everyday, run-of-the-mill testimony without any particular sensitivity should not be freely and readily available to the public you serve.

Sincerely,

Ted Folkman

Rep. O’Flaherty:

Any individual who chooses to testify at our public hearings has made the determination themselves that is is okay for their name and identity to be associated with the issue being testified on.

Our office also receives numerous letters and correspondence that ask us to consider their position but to refrain from exposing their identity due to various reasons. Some entities offer written testimony, videos and other presentations to the committee that they specifically request not to be disbursed due to sensitive material containing their rationale for or against a bill.

Therefore, under our interpretation of the law, it is within my judgment to make such decisions and for 9 years and under three different Speakers it has remained the same.

I can recall when I had to almost summons the state police to instruct a local TV news station to stop recording the testimony of a rape victim at one of our hearings; several individuals who didn’t testify publicly at that hearing did so in letters to my office. Whether it’s a sensitive issue or one considered innocuous, our policy remains, and will remain, the same.

Your assertions of greater transparency do not convince me that a selective policy of release is preferable to the policy maintained by my office.

Gene

I find it shocking that Representative O’Flaherty would have thought to call the police to keep reporters from reporting on testimony at a public hearing! Also, I note that he has referred to the testimony of rape victims both in his response to me and in his response to David. I would like to know the ratio of rape victim witnesses to all witnesses, so that I can judge the practical significance of Representative O’Flaherty’s position, but of course, given his policy, I have no way to find out.

Since it seems clear that Representative O’Flaherty has no interest in discussing a change to his policy, it’s time for Plan B: a massive one-man lobbying effort and social media blitz!

 



Discuss

24 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Again, the legislature should be subject to a clear, reasonable open meeting and FIOA law and policy

    As of today, the legislature is 100% immune to both ALL and ANY open meeting laws and ALL and ANY FOIA requests. By statute, no less.

    • Maybe

      I actually don’t favor the extension of the open meeting laws and the public records law to the legislature, since I think it’s important that legislators be able to “talk amongst themselves”, as it were. But here we’re not talking about legislators talking among themselves, but about public testimony that should be on the record and available to the public. Probably the way to change this is by change to the rules of the two houses. But in the meanwhile, my main point is that there is no reason to refuse to provide copies of testimony even if you’re not legally obligated to do so.

      • Talking among themselves?

        So then why wouldn’t it be OK for school committee members to “talk amongst themselves?”

        Imagine, 3 of 5 sc members attend a high school football game together and end up sitting together. The dialog is exclusively focused on the ballgame. Someone is likely to construe such a “meeting” as a violation of the open meeting law.

        As a practical matter I would not expect a larger legislative body to follow the same rules, but today there are no rules.

    • Where do we get...

      the bumper stickers?

    • Isn't FOIA a federal statute?

      And if so, wouldn’t it supercede any state-imposed immunity? In other words, the Legislature can write that they’re exempt, but in reality it means nothing, no?

    • Revision

      In light of this article, I may revise my views on this.

  2. I think it's reasonable . . .

    . . . to assume that Representative Flaherty has something to hide. This seems like a pretty innocuous request.
    Maybe we should all speculate on what he might be hiding, like they do over at Headline News.

  3. I repeat that I think open government is bad.

    It just gets people riled up. Most of MA state government is conducted in secret and despite the mnay scandals of late it seems to work just fine. Transparency is a Republican issue and no one is buying what they are selling come election time. Didn’t they introduce some transparency bills at the beginning of the session that were voted down overwhelmingly?

  4. Satire, Merrimack guy? Open Govt is "bad"

    Let the sleeping slobs stay somnolent, that your point – or that your caricature? Globe article was steller today, of course, is sounds like ME talking, but… you must LOVE that our state is “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to democracy, but, hey, you no longer have to take just MY word for it: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/07/08/massachusetts_legislators_vital_work_veiled_from_publics_eye/

    • Definition of insanity

      Electing the same people to leadership positions year after year and expecting a different result!

      • Dave - both parties. Did you read the Brad Jones quote at the end?

        Brad Jones goes along to get along and LOVES the secrecy and resulting $$$$$$$$$$ from lobbyists since they are the only camels poking their noses into the legislatures tent.

        The Globe’s article, regarding Brad Jones, says

        “Bradley H. Jones, Jr., the House Republican leader, said he agrees with the need to conduct some business behind closed doors to facilitate negotiations. Jones calls for a modest overhaul allowing lawmakers to decide the fate of a handful of bills in a public dbate each year, without determining the outcome ahead of time. At least a little bit of open debate, he said, would be “a good management tool.” for the speaker and an opportunity for “blowing off legislative steam.”

        • Both parties indeed!

          n/t

        • Thanks for posting. Great article!

          Gotta love this line from DeLeo:

          “The discussion [in private] becomes a lot more open and in that fashion moves the process along a whole lot faster,’’ DeLeo said.

          What an ass-backwards, anti-democratic view of the world, Mr. Speaker. It’s no wonder your kind keep ending up with felony convictions.

    • My point is that the people of this state have voted for this.

      I am only taking the will of the people to a logical conclusion.

      I once lived in a town where the animal control officer was submitting expenses for reimbursment without receipts. She did it over a period of about seven years.

      When questioned by a new board of selectman, she said “I’m not giving you the backup. If you want backup you’ll need to find someone else.” They did end up finding someone else, but in essence the legislature is saying that, yet they get to keep their job.

      • Actually these punks are generally uncontested...

        Yet another bottom-of-the-barrel indicator of where Massachusetts democracy stands today. So no, the people have NOT voted for this. In fact, we voted for Clean Elections, by a 2-to-1 margin, but the wolves threw it out on an unrecorded voice vote.

        Nationally yes, it’s both parties. Here in Massachusetts, sure, both parties are corrupt, doing the bidding of the powers-that-be. The only problem is that the Democratic Party IS the powers-that-be here. And continuing to support that institution is nothing less than complicity.

  5. O'Merta

    To keep the prying eyes of the public from reading testimony offered by the public, Representative O’Flaherty is apparently willing to hide behind the skirts of victims of physical violence. How much classier can a legislator get?

    A disclosure law passed by the Legislature requires lobbyists to report twice a year on every bill for which they have advocated (for or against). Those disclosures are public and available on the internet. Thanks to the Legislature’s interest in transparency, therefore, it is fairly easy for me to learn that a lobbyist has weighed in on a bill. However, thanks to Representative O’Flaherty’s interest in opacity, I can’t learn a thing about the content of any lobbyist’s advocacy (at least for bills being considered by his committee). That, as TedF and David have ably demonstrated, is nuts.

    I wonder how Representative O’Flaherty secures the cooperation of other committee members — some kind of initiation rite where legislators vow their silence prior to their selection? What’s the penalty for non-compliance? Alas, all that may be covered by O’Merta as well.

  6. Democracy is so untidy, compared to tyranny

    But government of, by, and for the people is why my ancestors came here – not to return to tidy tyranny of the few.

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Sat 25 Oct 2:12 PM