Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

Martha Coakley announces new Open Meeting Post

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Office of the Attorney General



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March 31, 2009 Emily LaGrassa

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New Division will Focus on Education and Outreach as AG’s Office

Assumes Responsibility for Open Meeting Law Enforcement
BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley has named Robert Nasdor as the Director of her office’s newly-created Division of Open Government. In this role, Nasdor will oversee the Attorney General’s Office’s work to enforce and provide education and training on the state’s Open Meeting Law. On July 1, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) will assume responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law (OML) from the state’s District Attorneys, who previously enforced the law as it pertains to municipal bodies.
“The recent changes to the Open Meeting law provide for greater transparency and clarity—both of which are hallmarks of good government,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “Our office’s approach to enforcement of the Open Meeting Law will focus on education and training, and it is our hope that if all local government officials understand the law, we will prevent violations. Bob is a seasoned attorney whose career has focused on public interest advocacy and he shares my commitment to open government. I am confident that he will bring top-notch leadership to this new division and will be a great resource for municipal officials.”
Nasdor, a Sudbury resident, is a graduate of Rutgers University School of Law. He previously served as the Legal Director at the National Center on Homelessness & Poverty in Washington, DC, where he directed the law and policy agenda for this national homeless legal advocacy organization. From 1997 through 2005, Nasdor served as the Executive Director of the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts, directing a 20-attorney civil legal services program serving 3,500 low-income clients annually.
Under Ethics Reform legislation enacted in 2009 the AGO will assume responsibility for all enforcement of the OML. Previously, the AGO was responsible for enforcement of the OML as it pertains to state boards and committees, while the state’s 11 District Attorney’s were responsible for enforcement of OML as it applied to municipal and county boards and committees. In order to allow for more consistent enforcement and to provide for more training

and education of municipal and county officials, all enforcement was transferred to the AGO, effective July 1, 2010.

Recognizing that most OML violations are the result of a lack of awareness or understanding of the law, the Attorney General’s new Division of Open Government will focus on providing training and educational resources to public officials who are subject to the OML. The Division of Open Government will provide training through two key means:

1. Online: The AGO will develop a comprehensive website that will provide updated OML guidelines, links to the OML and the AGO’s regulations, links to the advisory opinions and hearing decisions that we will be issuing, and other educational materials and resources.
2. In-person: The new division will also conduct in-person, regional trainings. In addition, the AGO will also continue to accept requests to speak from associations representing municipal officials, city managers, city solicitors/town counsel and city/town clerks, and other officials subject to the OML, as well as the news media.

The new division’s goal is to be a recognizable and readily accessible resource for officials, the news media, and the public.

Because the AGO has the authority to issue binding interpretations of the OML—something that the District Attorneys did not have—the AGO will be able to help officials avoid violating the law by providing guidance before action is taken. The AGO will provide both formal and informal guidance to municipalities and other officials. For example:

* Officials and other interested parties can ask for a written opinion from the Division of Open Government, which will apply the OML to a specific set of facts.
* The Division of Open Government will be able to respond to questions and concerns posed by local officials over the phone.

In addition, the AGO plans to issue procedural and substantive regulations that will help to fill in any gaps in the OML and respond to issues that arise.

Mike Ross's Citizen Committee announced

Mike Ross announced in January that he is putting together a citizens committee on how Boston can be better. His announcement says the committee is full of innovators who have brought fresh energy and ideas to Boston.

I contacted Mike and the chairperson Ed Glaeser expressing my interest in the committee, but I didn't make the cut.

I was interested that in the announcement it noted that committee person Klare Allen is a resident of the Boston Housing Authority, but it doesn't mention where any of the other people live. I wrote the following note to Councilor Ross, I'll let you know what response I get:

Dear Mike,

I was disappointed that you weren't interested in having me on your committee. I had spoken to ChairPerson Glaeser about it and he thought I might be able to add something to it. Anyway, I wish you and the city well with it. I would suggest saving libraries or having a real long term plan and discussion about libraries would be a great way to make a great city.

I have one question. In your announcement it mentions that Klare Allen is a resident of the Boston Housing Authority. I have met Klare and I know she is a poor black woman. I also notice that the announcement doesn't mention where any of the other people live. Is there a particular reason that you only identify where poor black women live? I'd appreciate it if you would update your announcement and
let everyone know where all the appointees live. I know you care about equality and transparency.

I look forward to your response.

Kevin McCrea

Mike Responds:

It was to highlight that she lives in public housing - yes - that is important to me, and I hope to the public, that a member who lives in public housing is on this committee because this isn't just about CEO's and academics - that our city is strong enough to attract talent internationally, but lift up talent who currently lives here. She and I spoke.

Hope to see you at the meeting, and we will produce more complete bios.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

My editorial against closing libraries

This printed in these weeks edition of the South End News.

Recently it has been reported that there is an emergency fiscal "crisis" with the Boston Public Libraries and that 10 of the 26 branch libraries may have to be shuttered. But, the numbers do not add up, and there is no real emergency. The crisis is one of honest government, proper planning, and responsible investigative journalism.

First the numbers: according to the Boston Globe, the library budget this year is 41.1 million dollars, for which it is reported there is a 3.6 million dollar shortfall, which is about nine percent. The announced response to this is to close 38 percent of the branch libraries? Clearly, more than meets the eye is going on here. Three million, six hundred thousand dollars is less than two tenths of one percent of the 2.4 billion dollar City budget, and hardly rates as a crisis forcing us to board up public institutions without a proper vetting of how important they are to our civic life.

As thoroughly explained in the enlightening book "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein, governments and politicians have moved away from being honest with their citizens by creating false "crises" to force "reforms" on people that they could not do democratically. In a debate last year, Mayor Menino trumpeted the fact that he had not closed one library during our national economic meltdown. I pointed out that he had indeed closed the Kirstein library, and he retorted that it just moved to Copley Square. Will he use the same logic for these 10 branch libraries? He certainly didn’t run on a platform of closing 40 percent of our civic institutions. Closing libraries is the modern equivalent of book burning, as Adrian Walker’s bank robber subject John McGrath so aptly put it this week.

I believe the media is most to blame for this state of affairs. Why aren’t they asking these basic financial questions? As I and others such as the Municipal Research Bureau and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation have been pointing out for years, we have an unsustainable financial model, especially when it comes to pensions and health care for government workers. This didn’t just happen in the last month, and it is no excuse to ram the shuttering of all these libraries down our throats without an honest, transparent analysis and discussion of our long-range civic goals and priorities. Last year at this time, City Hall was telling the press that we were facing 900 school layoffs and 200 police layoffs. As I wrote last year, this was again another fake "crisis" and was just being used to scare the populace so that the politicians looked good when they cut far fewer jobs, or none as in the case of policemen. I am saying it here now: the City of Boston is not going to close 10 libraries this year, City Hall is not being honest with the citizens, and if I am wrong I will personally donate $50,000 for books to the library system. I believe for the media to have their own sustainable economic model, they need to start doing their job and asking these questions, instead of asking where Tom and Gisele were last night.

We espouse that we are the Athens of America, but the recent news would suggest otherwise. We are talking about closing schools and closing libraries because of lack of money, but yet when two convenience store clerks are murdered the politicians are quick to come up with funds and proposed rules for requiring security cameras. I feel I am living more in Oceania than in Utopia. Yet the facts again point out the fallacy in their thinking. Surendra Dangol was killed in a convenience store with a security camera; it took 20 days to arrest his alleged killer. Gerardo Serrano was killed in a convenience store without a security camera; it took only four days to arrest his alleged killers. I didn’t hear a single politician ask about the cost of those proposed cameras and rules. It takes real leadership to say to a shocked and grieving public that to make a just and safe society we need to spend more on libraries and schools, and less on security cameras.

What is the solution? First of all, pray for Mother Nature to give us $7.5 million during this Easter season. What do I mean? Well, with help from Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s office I have figured out that we budgeted 15 million dollars for snow removal this year, and thankfully, we have only spent $7.5 million so far. So, if we can somehow make it through to Easter without breaking out the plows we will have a pot of gold that can help us survive the "crisis" for another year while we have a well-thought-out discussion on the future of libraries in Boston.

Mayor Menino has been talking about using eminent domain downtown; he could take back Heyward Place and put the $2 million his friend collects for parking fees tax free back into City coffers. We could ask why we are giving $30 million in tax breaks and grants to Liberty Mutual, or perhaps ask their CEO Ted Kelly to at least make a 3.6 million contribution from his $27 million dollar salary to the libraries in exchange for those credits. Most important of all, perhaps, we should ask how the taxpayers got put on the hook for $800 billion in TARP debt, but we couldn’t get 3.6 million dollars for libraries?

When my mother was working a full-time job and raising her three children on her own, we didn’t have money for a TV, let alone childcare. She had us go to the library after school and wait until she could pick us up. I sat for hours safely reading, learning, and imagining wonderful things. I wouldn’t want any child in Boston to lose out on that same sense of wonder, safety and potential that is enclosed within each and every library because of a dishonest, fake "crisis."

Kevin McCrea is a South Ender and former candidate for Mayor of Boston.