While I was doing boring paperwork yesterday, I took the time to call my city councilors and see where they stand on the Walkowski report and recommendations that seeks to exclude themselves from the Open Meeting Law as currently constituted.
First some background. The Rules committee chaired by Maureen Feeney received the Walkowski report about 3 weeks ago, had an initial meeting and then a subsequent meeting a week or two later. At that second meeting a vote was taken to send the report to the attorney generals office, the Mass. Municipal Association City Corporate Council, and the Municipal Clerks Association for their comments and review. Only Chuck Turner voted against this, he told me, because he wanted to send it on to those organizations with the stipulation that those organizations were to understand that the City Council approves of these suggestions.
So, I wanted to call up my district councilor (Turner) and the four at large councilors and Council President Feeney to get their positions on this. Other than Turner who was not afraid to say he supports it, the general message from the councilors was that they were all for transparency. But, how can you be for transparency when you vote to have a report forwarded for review that asks for exclusion from the Open Meeting Law. They seem to want to have this dance of saying they personally are for transparency, it is just others who are moving this forward. However, if they were for transparency they should have spoken against this nonsense, and stopped wasting everyone's time with it. Surely, the Attorney General has better things to do than review a report which the Council supposedly doesn't agree with?
Councilor Connolly's office told me that John was an ardent supporter of Transparency. I asked what he had done ardently to support transparency but they couldn't answer that. His chief of staff said the councilor would call me back. Still haven't heard from him.
I called Councilor Murphy's office and no one picked up.
I called Councilor Flaherty's office and had a nice conversation with a staff member. He assured me that under no circumstances would the councilor vote to exempt himself from the Open Meeting Law. He said that Councilor Flaherty only sought clarification on the law. He said Flaherty cares a lot about transparency, and agreed that transparency is a problem at city hall especially with organizations like the BRA and the City Budget which buries all sorts of items. The gentleman even called me back this morning as we apparently missed each other at the Sonia Chang-Diaz victory party last night. My question to him is: what questions would Michael Flaherty like clarification on? His position for at least 2 years has been that he wants clarification. Why not be transparent about what you are not clear about? It is only Shirley Kressel, the District Attorney, Kathleen Devine and I that have brought about OML issues, why not ask some of us? He said he would get back to me. I appreciate the fact that they are at least responsive, if not giving a very clear answer. Flaherty is on the rules committee and he could have voted against the Walkowski report going any further but he didn't.
I spoke to Councilor Yoon's office and a nice lady there told me that Sam cares a great deal about Transparency. He, though, is also on the rules committee and voted to forward the Walkowski report on. It is kind of hard to be both for something and against something at the same time. Unless you are a politician, I guess. She told me (see earlier blog post) that Sam is introducing a bill to make the City Council minutes more readable for the public. Councilor Flaherty's office told me that Councilor Flaherty is in favor of this action. I said I'd love to see the bill and asked if she could email a copy to me. She said she would. I didn't receive it yesterday and I called her this morning and she said she would send it, but that the chief of staff had to send it. I still haven't received it. I do agree with Sam Yoon that the City Council minutes are atrocious, in particular the August 6, 2008 minutes which are so inaccurate that someone might even be inclined to think that they are in violation of the Open Meeting Law and might think about filing a lawsuit (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)!!!
I called Councilor Turner's office and they said he would call back. He did give me a call and then proceeded to explain to me why he voted against this Walkowski thing, because he wanted the council to be more proactively for it. He feels the council is even less effective than it was before. He feels it is important for the councilors to be able to meet in private to "build relationships". He told me that he thinks both the Superior Court and the Appeals court were wrong about the Tularemia decision. He thinks the Tularemia situation was an emergency. I said "but Chuck, the Tuleramia problem happened 6 months earlier, in the summer. How was it an emergency in January?" But he insisted it was an emergency, so I said "Chuck, why don't you read the Open Meeting Law, if something is an emergency there are provisions for having a meeting why didn't you just follow the law?" He said something about it being 8:30 in the morning and they couldn't find everyone or something to that effect. I forgot to ask him the most important question: if this Tularemia meeting was an emergency and so important, than why did the City Council argue in their legal filings in McCrea v. Flaherty that the City Council has no jurisdiction or control over the Public Health Commission, or for that matter over any public health issues in the city? How could something which they have no control over be an emergency? The Council didn't argue in court that the Tularemia meeting was such an emergency that they just had to meet that day, they argued that the Council has no power or authority over anything to do with Public Health, Tularemia or Boston University so it couldn't be considered a meeting since they were essentially meeting about nothing. Maybe this will become known, like all great Chess moves get named, as the Seinfeld Defense. Councilor Turner then went on for a few minutes without letting me get in a word edgewise, where he said that before you present anything to a group you work out the details before hand, and that I as a businessman get to meet behind closed doors, so he should be allowed as well. (except that in both cases it is my money at stake, and so I should be allowed to the meeting I think) He said he would come anywhere, anytime and defend his position on this, then finished with "I'm sick of this shit, Ok, take care" and hung up.
I ran into Joe Heisler at the Sonia Chang Diaz victory party last night and suggested a debate about transparency and the Open Meeting Law and the Walkowski report. He agreed to host it, if any Councilor would come on and support their actions and positions. Councilor Turner had given me a great idea.
So, how about it will any Councilors come on Joe Heisler's TV show and have a debate about how we can make the City more transparent, and defend them sending a report to the Attorney General which has the suggestion of exempting the Boston City Council from the Open Meeting Law?
PS. I just got a call from Justin Holmes from Councilor Feeney's office. He was good enough to clarify some information for me: which organizations the council is forwarding the report to, and the fact that the Rules Committee commissioned the report about 14 months ago. He referred me to Anne Hess Braga to get the information on what Mr. Walkowski was instructed to do by the Rules Committee.
Interestingly enough, the City Council did not inform corporate counsel that they commissioned the Walkowski report despite the ongoing Lawsuit about the OML. When the Walkowski report came out it was a surprise to them as well.