Public records harassment tough sell

Public records harassment tough sell

Enforcement rare on statute aimed to give communities relief

WELLESLEY RESIDENT RONALD ALEXANDER seems to be exactly the sort of guy lawmakers had in mind when they included a harassment provision in the new Public Records Law.

Alexander has filed more than 200 public records requests with Wellesley since 2013. He has filed 162 requests with the school department and school committee, 40 with the Board of Selectmen, and seven with the police department. More than half of the requests have been filed since last August.

“Mr. Alexander utilizes the Public Records Law to target and harass specific employees,” school official Judith Belliveau and town executive Meghan Jop wrote in a 10-page petition to Secretary of State William Galvin’s public records office in April. “Mr. Alexander’s pointed requests have typically been preceded by some action taken by an employee by which Mr. Alexander seemingly feels aggrieved.”

The town’s petition said Alexander “regularly files multiple requests on a single day all pertaining to the same matter” and makes public records requests for records that he himself created.

Alexander had six public records requests for budget information pending when Wellesley officials petitioned Galvin’s office for permission to ignore the requests or, alternatively, be granted more time to respond. The officials said Alexander’s requests fit the parameters of the harassment provision of law, which states that they must be “frivolous or designed to intimidate or harass, and the requests are not intended for broad dissemination of information to the public about actual or alleged government activity.”

Rebecca Murray, Galvin’s supervisor of records, disagreed. In a May ruling, she chose not to void Alexander’s requests, instead giving the town a total of 30 business days to respond.

Murray has yet to approve any harassment requests. Since the Public Records Law took effect in January, 11 cities and towns—including Attleboro, Marlborough, Norwood, Sherborn, and Waltham—have filed petitions asking Galvin’s office for relief from having to produce requested records. Two of the municipal petitions never reached the ruling stage, but the remaining nine were all rejected, although some of the communities were granted extra time to respond. No state agencies have sought relief under the harassment provision in the law.

In April, the city of Attleboro filed a harassment petition in connection with Nora Chorover, a Boston environmental attorney. The city alleged that Chorover’s requests are “part of a series intended to harass private businesses within the city for the purpose of generating revenue by threatening litigation.”

Murray rejected Attleboro’s request.

Wellesley’s petition involving Alexander was the most detailed of those filed so far. It even cited alleged past instances of harassment. In 2013, according to the petition, Alexander signed a settlement agreement with Elizabeth Perry, the Wellesley school department’s performing arts director, in which he apologized and agreed to “immediately cease…any and all efforts to challenge, criticize, disparage, or otherwise inquire about the qualifications, education, and work experience of Ms. Perry, any Wellesley administrator, and any faculty or staff member in the performing arts department.”

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Nonetheless, the town found it necessary last November to send a cease-and-desist letter to Alexander to leave Perry alone.

Both Murray and Galvin declined requests for an interview. Alexander could not be reached for comment, and the two Wellesley town officials did not respond to requests for an interview.

  • Robert Gardner

    The “anti-harassment” part of the law is probably unconstitutional anyway, since the right to petition for redress of grievances is guaranteed by the first amendment, and federal law makes it illegal to take away a citizen’s rights “under color of state law.”