Press Coverage and Commentary

NEFAC receives considerable press coverage each year for its consistent advocacy of freedom of information and First Amendment concerns. Below are links to stories we’ve appeared in during the current year. Coverage from previous years can be seen here:

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DAs Ignore Many Requests for Public Records | CommonWealth 2.5.23

Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, thinks the DA numbers may actually be understating the problem. “While these numbers are concerning, the amount of requests that go ignored is likely even higher,” Silverman says.  “Not all cases are appealed. Not all requesters dig in and fight for the information they need. I fear what’s represented here is only part of the story.”

Healey Won’t File Legislation Subjecting Her Office to Records Law | CommonWealth 2.1.23

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment coalition, wasn’t sure what to make of Healey’s new policy. “Governor Healey said her office would follow the public records law and that’s the expectation. There is no ‘unique obligations’ exemption in the law and claiming one now seems like an attempt to walk back the promise she made,” he said.

Legislature, Governor’s Office Must Take This Real Opportunity to Upgrade Bay State’s Woeful Governmental Transparency | The Berkshire Eagle 1.27.23

It remains to be seen, however, how Gov. Healey will follow through on those pledges made by candidate Healey. A coalition of transparency advocates last month wrote to Gov. Healey asking her to follow up her promising words with meaningful action. We join in those calls from the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England Newspaper & Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

DEP Targeted for ‘Egregious’ Open Meeting Violation | The New Bedford Light 1.27.23

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said he wasn’t aware of any exceptions in the law that would apply to the stakeholder group. “Just because it’s this ‘ad hoc’ committee, as they describe it, doesn’t make it any less of a public body serving a public purpose,” he said. Silverman said the attorney general’s decision on whether the group had to follow the open meeting law would come down to two main exceptions. One of them allows a single official to appoint an advisory board to help them make a decision they have the authority to make on their own. One example would be a mayor assembling a panel to help her nominate candidates for a staff position, something the mayor could do herself. But the stakeholder group was advising on a regulatory process that involves an entire division. There’s another exception for committees with a broad, flexible membership — like an advisory group for a school that’s open to any student, parent or teacher. Since it’s not clear who counts as a member or who may be present at any particular meeting, Silverman said a group like that would be exempt. But the environmental agency has posted a list defining the stakeholder group members, and Silverman said the exemption wouldn’t apply to an invite-only committee.

After 3 Reporters Turned Away From Hearings, Newsrooms Raise Concerns About Access | VTDigger 1.17.23

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said Tuesday it is essential that all journalists get equal access to committee meetings. “If these restrictions that are currently in place don’t allow that to happen, then the Legislature should reconsider those restrictions and determine whether they are still necessary given the health concerns of Covid,” he said. Legislative staffers have also argued that even if reporters — or other members of the public — are turned away from a committee meeting because of capacity limits, they can still watch the proceedings on live video feeds of each meeting streamed on YouTube. But Silverman said video streams, while important for transparency, don’t provide the level of access that reporters need — a concern echoed in the letter from newsroom leaders. “Journalists need the opportunity to be in the room because they need to hear side conversations,” Silverman said. “They need to be there to witness what happens before that livestreaming starts, and what occurs after it ends.” “Journalists need the opportunity to follow up with legislators in-person, face-to-face,” he added, “and ask difficult questions that could otherwise be evaded.”

Healey Promised to Bring Transparency. It’s Not Clear If She’ll Follow Through | The Boston Globe 1.16.23

Healey gets credit for signaling a break from her predecessors. But as Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, fairly points out, “she hasn’t provided any details, she hasn’t shared with us any steps that she’s going to take to make that a reality,” and “until she does, until she puts more action into those words, it’s just a promise unfulfilled.” Last month, Silverman’s First Amendment Coalition, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, and the New England Newspaper & Press Association wrote a letter to Healey asking her to put some muscle behind her pledge. The groups wanted the governor, immediately after taking office, to issue an executive order subjecting her office to the public records law. They wanted her to appoint a public records officer, too. And they are calling on her to file and support legislation clarifying that the public records law applies to the governor’s office.

Healey Off to Fine Start — Now Time for Follow-Through | The Eagle-Tribune 1.14.23

In December, a coalition of newspapers and open government groups called on then Gov.-elect Healey not to claim the public records law exemption and asked her to file legislation to make all three branches of government subject to records law. Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said he welcomes Healeys pledges to bring more transparency to Beacon Hill. “She could have easily just fallen in line with previous governors and claimed the exemption,” he said. “But she’s not doing that, and deserves credit for it.”

Healey Won’t Claim Public Records Exemption | The Eagle-Tribune 1.12.23

In a letter to Healey, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition, wrote that she has the “singular opportunity” to reverse an “ill-conceived policy that has allowed the governor’s office to operate under a level of secrecy that is unimaginable” in other states. Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said he welcomes Healeys pledges to bring more transparency to Beacon Hill. “She could have easily just fallen in line with previous governors and claimed the exemption,” he said. “But she’s not doing that, and deserves credit for it.” That said, Silverman said there are lingering questions about how the Healey administration will implement the changes and exactly what kinds of records will be subject to public disclosure. “There aren’t any details and she hasn’t provided any insight into how this will happen,” he said. “And, as of yet, we haven’t received any response from her to our letter, which outlined some specific things she could do.”

Private Equity CEO Won’t Face Charges in Old North Wharf Boat Sabotage Case | Nantucket Current 1.6.23

According to the New England First Amendment Coalition, “Most criminal prosecutions begin with an arrest, followed by an application for a criminal complaint by a law enforcement officer. A law enforcement officer or private citizen, however, can also file an application for issuance of a criminal complaint without the occurrence of an arrest. Applications without arrests can be subject to a ‘show cause’ hearing when there is no threat of imminent bodily injury, the commission of a crime, or of the accused fleeing the state.” That is what happened following the Environmental Police investigation of Wolpow last fall.