Galvin dishes out blame pie — but none for him, thanks

There is an old saw about accountability that says when you point a finger of blame at someone else, there are three more pointing back at you. Secretary of State William Galvin doesn’t appear to worry about that because he’s using all his fingers to accuse everyone but himself for nonexistent enforcement and often tortured interpretation of the state’s woefully weak public records laws.

Galvin has been under siege lately, primarily from the news media, for the increasing number of refusals by government agencies to turn over what are in most other states easily attainable public records. Galvin’s office, which is in charge of overseeing the law, has more often sided with agencies that decline to release information, and, even when it sides with those appealing an agency decision, hasn’t referred them in more than five years to the attorney general’s office for enforcement, as required by law.

The latest imbroglio for Galvin came when he upheld the refusal of area police departments to release to the Boston Globe the names of officers charged with a variety of offenses, including drunken driving. Shawn Williams, Galvin’s supervisor of public records, said police chiefs can choose to withhold the names of those accused of crimes under the state’s CORI laws.

The decision was roundly criticized and triggered an unprecedented coordinated editorial condemnation by the Globe, the Boston Herald, the Patriot Ledger and all the GateHouse Media papers in Massachusetts.

Galvin sat down with Jim Braude on Greater Boston Wednesday night to protest that he’s getting a bad rap and says he, too, wants change but the Legislature isn’t helping. Galvin said CORI officials are the ones who insisted the arrest records cannot be released, though it is Galvin’s office that makes those determinations. And he said he stopped referring enforcement to the attorney general out of frustration because then-AG Martha Coakley and her predecessor, Tom Reilly, had no interest in following up.

“The problem with references to the attorney general is they went nowhere,” Galvin told Braude. “Very often, the attorney general had higher priorities than this.”

Galvin also disputed a Globe analysis from last fall that showed his office ordered agencies to release records in just 20 percent of appeals; the Globe said his own office placed the figure at 27 percent. But on Wednesday, Galvin said his records show, since the beginning of this year, 83 percent of appeals are upheld, though he didn’t say how many there were in the 2-plus months.

But whether it’s 20 or 80 or even 100 percent of the time, agencies ignore the rulings with impunity because there is no consequence for noncompliance if Galvin doesn’t forward it to the state’s top law enforcer for action. New Attorney General Maura Healey says she wants to mend fences with Galvin and has vowed to put some teeth into the law and work to reform it.

“It’s really important to me that they understand that we are here and we are happy to take referrals from the secretary of state’s office,” Healey told the Globe. Healey also says she wants to “take a hard look” at the Legislature exempting itself from the law. That ought to win her some friends.

Galvin has vowed to place a referendum on the 2016 ballot to beef up the public records law, though he hasn’t said how it will be worded. But even that declaration caught flak, with Herald editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen calling it the “cowardly” way out.

For Galvin, he can’t win. But maybe, at least, he can put his hands back in his pockets and stop pointing.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

Linda Spears, who reviewed shortcomings in the state’s Department of Children and Families last year on behalf of the Child Welfare League of America, a Washington-based advocacy group, says she’s appreciating the difficulties the department faces in carrying out its duties with constrained resources now that she’s running it.

Cape Cod residents get their turn at the mic as Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s Commonwealth Conversations tour stops in Buzzards Bay.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Somerset selectmen have voted to allow members of the town’s boards to participate in meetings remotely without violating the state’s Open Meeting Law, meaning Selectman David Berube won’t miss a vote next month while he is on his honeymoon in Las Vegas.

Scituate officials are proposing a 13 percent increase in the town budget but most of the increase is a result of debt service skyrocketing an astounding 204 percent because of recent Proposition 2½ overrides.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Senate Republicans offer an outline of the federal budget that has many differences with the House version, including eliminating the Affordable Care Act like the lower chamber but still counting on the $2 trillion in taxes the law pulls in.

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden will among those gathering in Dorchester on March 30 for the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Developer Kirk Sykes, who was part of a city-subsidized Roxbury hotel development that’s been in financial trouble, is part of a team bidding to build a hotel near the state convention center on Summer Street in Boston, the Herald reports.

Fewer pews, more housing units: A former South End church could become 54 units of housing under a preliminary filing with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Meanwhile, a Globe editorial says the city made the right call in approving a condo project for the former Gate of Heaven parish school in South Boston.

After a bidding war, a Boston Seaport parking garage has sold for a whopping $56 million.

An economic development watchdog group has published a tally of nearly 600 companies that received federal grants and tax credits, including 21 corporations that each received more than $500 million in subsidies.

A campaign by Starbucks to initiate conversations about race relations is drawing a storm of criticism and derision over social media.

A group of African-American entrepreneurs is planning an ambitious office, retail, and residential development project in Roxbury.

The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council wants Beacon Hill to tackle transportation improvements and tax policy changes to help add jobs.

EDUCATION

Boston charter school students outperform their district school peers by a wide margin, according to a new national study of urban charters from a Stanford University research center, with greater gains among Boston charter students than in charters in any other city examined in the report.

U.S. News & World Report has a counter-intuitive take claiming that NCAA Division 1 student-athletes have a better graduation rate that the average non-jock undergraduate.

HEALTH CARE

A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds the gap between those who oppose Obamacare and those in favor is the smallest since 2012, a year before the botched rollout of the law.

Consolidations prompting some layoffs in the biopharma industry have some in the Boston area concerned about the impact on research and development work on new drugs.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say they will continue to put added scrutiny on the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth until operators of the facility make needed repairs to the system that caused the plant to shut down during this winter’s storms.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Lawrence man has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison in connection with the kidnapping of a Boston man, but FBI officials warn that more gangs of Dominican joloperros, or “stickup men,” could be preying in similar fashion on other drug dealers as part of the get-rich scheme.