Reporter’s Notebook

Reporter’s Notebook

Tales unearthed with the Public Records Law

FORMER GOV. DEVAL Patrick’s trade mission to Singapore in December 2013 must have been grueling because an aide who accompanied him on the trip ordered up a massage and what expense records describe as a scalp soother.

The records, obtained by a filing under the Public Records Law, reveal that Richard Elam, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment, sought and received reimbursement for $152 he spent on the massage and scalp soother at the Regent Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore. He was also reimbursed an additional $682 for room service and laundry charges he incurred in Singapore and elsewhere.

But state officials say Elam eventually had to give the money back. A memorandum dated Jan. 16, 2014, from Thomas Ryan, then the chief financial officer at the Housing and Economic Development office, to Elam informed him that he had to pay the state back the total of $834.

Elam also had to reimburse the state another $533 in other expenses for which he had no receipts.

Mary Connaughton, who heads up government transparency initiatives at the Pioneer Institute and is a certified public accountant, said Elam put his coworkers in an awkward position by trying to expense the massage and scalp soother. “Credit is due to the back-office accountant who discovered it and to the CFO who made the executive director reimburse in full,” she said.

Coakley-Galvin feud continues

Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin’s public records office rarely see eye to eye, and that discord was on view again recently in a dispute over body parts.

Last March, the Boston Globe filed a public records request with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine for documents related to Dr. Roger Ian Hardy, a physician and the longtime director of a popular fertility clinic. He was accused of inappropriately touching and sexually molesting female patients, some while they were under anesthesia, in incidents going as far back as 1998. Hardy, a reproductive endocrinologist, surrendered his Massachusetts medical license in January 2014 amid an investigation by the medical board.

Claiming the privacy exemption of the Public Records Law, the medical board produced records for the Globe, but redacted the names of Hardy’s patients, the procedures he performed on them, and the parts of the body he allegedly touched.

The Globe appealed to Galvin’s public records office, saying it made no sense to redact the procedures and parts of the body if the patients names were already removed. The paper noted in its appeal that “excessive redactions may prevent other patients or witnesses from recognizing and coming forward with information regarding similar inappropriate conduct.”

But Galvin’s supervisor of public records, Shawn Williams, ruled last August that all the redactions were appropriate after reviewing the unredacted records in question. “While patient names have been redacted, the redacted descriptions of certain medical procedures, and the areas of the body impacted by these procedures, are such an integral part of the medical care these patients were provided that I find this information categorically exempt from disclosure,” Williams wrote.

The Globe went to court, but the matter was quickly settled after Coakley’s office, which represented the board, convinced its client to release the records with the procedures and body parts unredacted.

“I commend the attorney general for not standing by the secretary of state here,” says veteran media attorney Jeffrey Pyle. “The ruling by his supervisor of public records . . . is just as wrong as it could possibly be. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. I fail to discern any logic to it. It is troubling to me that the supervisor, who is supposed to be an advocate for the public’s right to know, seems to be performing the opposite function in some cases.”

DPH sidesteps remedial training

Miffed at the way the state Department of Public Health seemed to ignore public records requests, Galvin’s office last fall ordered remedial training for DPH staffers.

But it turns out the training session was never held. Meanwhile, the problem continues. Since December, at least three people have filed public records appeals with Galvin’s office trying to force the agency to turn over documents.

Meet the Author
Williams, the Galvin aide who ordered the training, is tight-lipped about what happened. All he would say is that he has been in contact with the Department of Public Health. That may be a moot point now with the changeover between the Patrick and Baker administrations.

Williams never responded to a public records request made on Dec. 4 seeking documents that might shed light on why the training session was never held even though his own regulations require a response within 10 days.