A Precautionary Tale

By Colman M. Herman

A year ago last June, I was interested in getting the backstory regarding New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft’s efforts to build a soccer stadium on the former Bayside Expo Center property on Columbia Point in Dorchester, Mass., owned by the University of Massachusetts. So I made a public records request for the relevant communications.

“The campus has reviewed its records [and] has no records responsive to your request,” UMass general counsel Deirdre Heatwole wrote to me last July.

That seemed odd, so I pressed Heatwole, to no avail.

Fast forward to the present. I recently learned something that Heatwole conveniently failed to tell me — the records I was seeking were in the hands of the University of Massachusetts Building Authority, a quasi-public sister agency that deals with the construction of the university’s buildings.

When Heatwole did not respond to an email asking why she did not redirect me to UMBA for the responsive records, which is what the law required her to do, I rung her up and asked her if she got my email. “I won’t be responding” she said and then, yes, dead air.

Colman M. Herman is a freelance writer and reporter living in Boston.

Editor’s Note: We’re looking to share short stories of public record failures and successes. Help us pull back the curtain to reveal the challenges New Englanders face when trying to obtain information. Do you have a story to share? Please send your 200-300 word article to mail@nefac.org.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

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Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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