Galvin orders DPH public records training

Reporter's notebook

Secretary of State William Galvin is ordering officials at the Department of Public Health to attend training sessions on the workings of the Massachusetts Public Records Law.

“In the past 12 months my office has opened no less than 14 appeals based on the response or nonresponse of DPH to requests for public records,” wrote Shawn Williams, Galvin’s supervisor of public records, in an Oct. 16 letter to David Kibbe, the communications director at DPH. “In several instances, DPH failed to provide any response whatsoever to a request for records. In some . . . DPH provided an acknowledgment, with no other response.”

Calling the situation “unacceptable,” Williams admonished Kibbe for “the apparent inability of [his] office to properly respond to requests for public records in a timely manner.”

Alec Loftus, a spokesman for Health and Human Services, the parent agency of DPH, said employees already receive regular public records training from the department’s legal counsel but would be happy to have additional training.

Loftus said agency officials are very busy, handling Ebola preparedness, the opioid addiction epidemic, and nearly 100 other programs. He said the agency deals with a “high volume” of public records requests.

Delays in responding to public records requests are fairly common in the Patrick administration. A major, but little known, reason is that the administration’s lawyers insist on reviewing most records before they are released by state agencies, even though the agencies have their own lawyers.

BRA’s private attorneys

Back in 2012, the Boston Redevelopment Authority offered Henry Jacques $1.2 million when it wanted to take his Dudley Square properties in Roxbury by eminent domain as part of the city’s plans to revitalize the area and move some city departments there. Jacques balked, got himself a lawyer, and sued the BRA for more money.

In September, a jury awarded Jacques a little more than $2 million for his property — $800,000 more than the BRA offered him. Not only did the agency lose in court and have to pay Jacques more, it also had to pay for an outside law firm to handle the legal matter because it has no staff attorneys who litigate such issues. Records indicate the BRA paid the law firm of Greenberg and Traurig $442,000 in legal fees and expenses to represent the agency on the Jacques case.

A banner service

Meet the Author
Walking down Huntington Avenue in Boston, a stroller can see beautifully designed banners flying from city light poles promoting the Museum of Fine Arts. Going east a few blocks, one comes upon banners promoting Northeastern University. Other banners in the city hype other institutions as well as special events.

City officials say the decade-old program is mostly done as a public service, but they do collect fees from institutions that hang the banners on the poles. The charge is $25 per banner per month for nonprofits and $75 for professional sports teams. Schools pay $50 per banner per year.

It’s unclear whether the program is a money-maker, since no one with the city tracks who pays and how much they pay for the privilege. Anne McNeil, the principal administrative assistant in the public works department, said the program was never intended to be a money-maker. She also said it’s always the same entities that use the program. Nevertheless, officials say they plan to review the program.