What I learned about MA’s Public Records Laws from the Olympics

Jonathan Cohn is a member of Progressive Massachusetts and co-founder of No Boston 2024, a group that helped to defeat Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. No Boston 2024 used public records requests to bring new information to the public debate and to shed light on what was happening behind closed doors. They have three requests still pending.

Whether or not you were in favor of the Olympics, this work by citizen activists was an impressive victory, and learning from their grassroots organizing is key for future battles to build a more progressive commonwealth. Jonathan explains below how his experiences highlight the urgent need for public records law reform. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanCohn.

TAKE ACTION TODAY TO PUSH FOR PUBLIC RECORDS REFORM -- TIME IS RUNNING OUT


Housing_Homelessness_Panel.jpgThe saying goes that sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we saw this clearly with Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics.

When decision-making is happening behind closed doors, public records requests offer citizens a way to pry open the door. By submitting public records requests (and having dogged follow-up), we were able to bring to light the conflicts of interest, double-talk, and misinformation in how the bid was being presented and sold to the public, and the ways in which public and private were increasingly becoming intertwined.

During this process, however, I learned almost as much about how broken our public records law is as I did about the Olympic bid.

Here are a few problems I regularly encountered in my quest to pry open this door:

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Public Records Reform: Take Action

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The 189th Legislative Session is halfway over, and now’s the time to check in on how our representatives on Beacon Hill are doing: Have they taken action on our progressive priorities? We’ll be releasing our 189th Session scorecards, so far, soon. (prior scorecards can be found at progressivemass.com/scorecard)

But we can only “score” votes that ARE taken -- and right now, important bills are being stalled -- we need your help to change that.

While we can’t change the Beacon Hill culture, not yet, at least, we can push legislators to hurry up and pass some important transformative bills -- before they go into election year “safe mode.”

Public records reform, a fundamental progressive priority, is at risk of stalling out. Government documents and records are key to government accountability and citizen engagement with the civic process. But access to these records in Massachusetts is maddeningly and shamefully retrograde, an affront to democracy itself

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