Word Games at Mass Dept. of Transportation

Have a public records story you would like to share? Email justin@nefac.org with your experience trying to obtain information through a state public records law.

By Colman M. Herman

When I was at the State Transportation Building in Boston recently, I noticed that Emerson College was occupying a large office on the second floor of the building, which is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

I asked William Doyle, MassDOT’s public records lawyer, for a copy of the lease between DOT and Emerson.

“MassDOT does not have any agreement with Emerson College relative to their space at the State Transportation Building,” Doyle wrote back to me. “Accordingly, we are closing our file.”

“Emerson squatting on state property,” I jokingly conjured up as the headline.

I asked Doyle to explain what’s going on. “Emerson occupies space at the State Transportation Building,” I reminded him. “The law requires you to use your ‘superior knowledge’ and tell me what agency I should contact to get a copy of the contract.”

Doyle responded: “It is my understanding that the agreement is not with an agency, but rather a company called The Theatre District LLC.”

Now it sounded like The Theater District LLC were the squatters.

I told Doyle: “Emerson is located in a building owned by the state — not by a private company called The Theatre District LLC. Am I missing something here?”

Doyle finally came clean. “MassDOT leases the space to the Theatre District, LLC, which in turn sublets to Emerson College and the restaurants/businesses located on the ground level,” Doyle wrote back to me.

When I asked Doyle why he didn’t tell me that in the first place, he went radio silent.

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

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