Local Government and Politics, News

Secretary of State orders Nahant town clerk to provide public records

Nahant Town Hall. (Spenser R. Hasak)

NAHANT — Secretary of State William Francis Galvin has ordered Nahant Town Clerk Margaret Barile to provide documents sought in a resident’s public records request that are long overdue.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requests should be answered within 10 days. But resident John Shannon Bianchi is still waiting for information he asked for in four different requests filed this spring and summer — some dating back to April.

Among other records, Bianchi was seeking email exchanges between former Town Administrator Jeffrey Chelgren and representatives at Northeastern University dating back to 2015. He also requested emails about the Master Plan Committee, and emails to and from selectmen Chesley Taylor, Richard Lombard, and Frank Barile, containing the name of the new town administrator, Anthony Barletta.

Bianchi said he requested email exchanges between Barletta and the three members of the Nahant Board of Selectmen through the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, where Barletta used to work, and received six emails, six days later. Bianchi said he expected duplicates once Barile answered the same request, but he was not provided the emails.

“Her role isn’t to decide which emails to give me, it’s to give me the emails I requested,” said Bianchi. “What she’s doing is using her own judgment. If this culture isn’t called out — and it hasn’t been called out — then it’s going to continue. It’s the behind-the-shadows deals, this, that, and the other, that has gotten Nahant in trouble so many other times. If this is the way that Town Hall is being run, then people need to know it so we can replace our administration at voting time.

“There’s no sense in hiding public records,” he said. “That’s not the way that America was supposed to run.”

Barile declined to comment.

Bianchi made requests on April 9, 2018; July 11, 2018; July 13, 2018 and July 19, 2018. The town responded to the July 13 request on Aug. 3 and to the April 9 request on Aug. 16, according to the determination from Galvin’s office.

“Mr. Bianchi asserts the August 16th response did not match in any way, shape, or form the criteria within the April 9 request,” Rebecca Murray, supervisor of records, wrote in the determination, which is addressed to Barile.

“I find the town must clarify whether it possesses any additional records responsive to the April 9 and July 13 requests and provide such records in a manner consistent with the Public Records Law and its Access Regulations. The duty to comply with requests for records extends to those records that exist and are in the possession, custody, or control of the custodian of records at the time of the request.”

Barile was also ordered to provide responses to the July 11 and July 19 requests within 10 business days. A copy of any such response must be provided to the secretary of state.

“The Public Records Law strongly favors disclosure by creating a presumption that all governmental records are public records,” said Murray. “‘Public records’ is broadly defined to include all documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any town of the Commonwealth, unless falling within a statutory exemption.”

The town has been ordered to provide Bianchi with a response in a manner consistent with the Public Records Law, within 10 business days.

 

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