Mass. ranks 20th in transparency, 42d on public records

Massachusetts ranks 20th among the 50 states on an index of laws relating to transparency, accountability, and limits in government, but its record was particularly bad on its public records and open meeting laws.

Coverstory3The survey by the Better Government Association ranks the states in five different categories: open records laws; whistleblower laws; campaign finance laws; open meeting laws, and conflict of interest laws. Massachusetts ranked 42d in open records laws and 37th in open meeting laws but fared much better on whistleblower laws (28th), campaign finance laws (2d), and conflict of interest laws (13th). Overall, the state received a score of 54 percent.

"Massachusetts should be congratulated that it beat out 30 other states," wrote BGA executive director Jay Stewart. "However, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the percentage score, Massachusetts received 54 percent, the equivalent of a F letter grade, hardly a cause for celebration."

New Jersey ranked No. 1 overall, with a percentage score of 64 percent, while South Dakota ranked 50th, with a score of 32 percent. Rhode Island ranked No. 2 overall, and New Hampshire ranked No. 41.

The cover story in the Fall issue of CommonWealth magazine focuses on the weakness of the state’s Public Records Law and suggests that Florida has laws worth emulating. The Better Government Association index of public records laws indicated that Nebraska and New Jersey have the best statutes in the nation. Florida was tied for 17th.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Better Government Association used five criteria to analyze and compare the state laws. Three of the criteria were procedural, including the amount of time an agency has to respond to a citizen request and the process for appeal. Two of the criteria related to the penalties imposed for agencies that withhold documents.

Illustration by Polly Becker.