Why does the Legislature hide business?
Editorial from The Brockton Enterprise
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
What would you think if your local city council or board of selectmen met in secret sessions — dozens of times — to discuss everything from building permits to the budget?
You'd be pretty upset that your elected officials were hiding behind closed doors while deliberating matters that have a direct effect on your life. Yet, that is what the state Legislature does whenever it suits its purpose — and no one seems to be worked up over it. They should be.
The Legislature passed the open meeting law in 1958 and reworked it in 1975. It is designed to allow the public to have input into public policy and keep people informed about deliberations and decisions. Yet, when it passed the law, the Legislature did one very sneaky thing: It exempted itself from the law.
Legislators have taken full advantage of this devious loophole, meeting secretly more than two dozen times since 2000 to discuss items ranging from spending millions of public dollars on a new baseball stadium for the Red Sox to raising taxes by more than $1 billion. The legislative “leadership” posts guards at all entrances to their meeting room, lest the masses try to find out what is going on in the gilded chamber. No public records are kept of discussions.
Few other states allow such insidious practices. So why do we tolerate it in Massachusetts? We get angry when local selectmen meet in a coffee shop to discuss municipal matters, so why not when the Legislature locks the doors and tells the public to get lost?
Maybe we are just beaten down by legislators who have isolated themselves from the people who sent them to Beacon Hill. We are resigned to being abused or ignored. It seemed ludicrous when state legislators, in their long process of eliminating the Clean Elections Law, proposed applying it to everyone — except themselves. But, in Massachusetts, the Legislature looks at itself as the ruling class and looks at you — the voter and taxpayer — as the great unwashed, to be elbowed out of the way.
Pam Wilmot of Common Cause said the reason the Legislature hides in private sessions is for “the convenience of the public officials and fearfulness of the public.”
But we don’t sense any fear — yet. Legislators are still riding high, doing as they please, when they please. That day will end, sooner or later — all oligarchies fall, eventually — but until that time arrives, we are left to peer through a knothole, wondering just what the legislators we pay are doing in the building we own.