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Fresolo Investigation: How Transparent is MA Government?

Friday, May 17, 2013

 

House Ethics Mum on Fresolo -- How Does MA Do on Transparency in General?

With reports yesterday that the House Ethics Committee was meeting in secret regarding possible ethics charges brought against Representative John Fresolo (with guards standing outside the meeting room), GoLocal takes a look at the allegations -- and how Massachusetts government has been ranking on transparency as a whole. 

On March 22 of this year, Go Local reported that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo launched an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into "serious allegations" against a state representative, and sources told GoLocalWorcester that the lawmaker in question was Worcester's own Rep. Fresolo.

Since then, there has been very little information released regarding the progress of an ethics investigation -- or any activity by the House Ethics Committee on the matter.  A staffer in the House Ethics Committee told GoLocal on Thursday that there was "no comment" on whether or not a meeting took place on Wednesday regarding Rep. Fresolo -- or if a meeting took place, at all.

The House Ethics website lists no hearings scheduled, nor any bills introduced in committee, or reported out of committee, regarding the "duty of the committee on Ethics to consider all violations of rules and all questions of conduct of Representatives, report any recommendations relative thereto, and recommend any changes in the rules which tend to facilitate the business of the House."

MA Legislature Gets an "F" Grade from the Sunlight Foundation

In March 2013, Common Cause reported that the Massachusetts Legislature received a failing grade from the Sunlight Foundation for the transparency and accessibility on its website.

"There were many flaws that warranted the “F” grade," wrote Common Cause.  "Committee and floor roll call votes are not posted on-line in a searchable format. The site is difficult to navigate. And historical information is often unavailable. This is unacceptable!  Please sign our petition calling for a better website and a more open and transparent legislature."

Common Cause went on to post, "Sunlight released its legislative transparency report card as part of “Sunshine” week, a week dedicated to calling attention to the need for greater transparency in government. Common Cause Massachusetts is also highlighting the need for reform of our open records and open meetings laws to ensure that all of the government’s business is conducted in public, and that public records requests do not cost more than a nominal amount."

Neighboring states Connecticut and New Hampshire received "A" grades from the Foundation. 

MA PIRG Follows the Money -- and Gives MA "A-" for Spending Transparency

MASSPIRG in March of 2013 gave the state an "A-" however for the State's spending website, www.mass.gov/transparency.

The release stated, "While this is the second consecutive year that Massachusetts’ transparency website has earned an “A-” it is important to note our surveys get more difficult each year as technology improves and consumer expectations increase. Last year, Massachusetts was ranked 4th best in the country with a 92, and this year they have improved to 2nd best with a 93. Massachusetts was awarded an “F” in MASSPIRG’s first survey in 2010.

While MASSPIRG lauded the fiscal openness of the state, MASSPIRG Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings acknowledged that the legislature -- and House Ethics committee -- could be hamstrung by procedure.

"There ought to be due process [regarding Fresolo's ethics case]," said Cummings.  "Legislators shouldn't have to check their rights at the door.  That being said, the public deserves to get information, however." 

Notably, the City of Worcester website states that the City was "recognized and awarded the Massachusetts Common Cause eGovernment Award with Distinction for the entirety of the awarding years; 2006 through 2010."

Lukes Offers Local Perspective

Worcester City Councilor and former Worcester Mayor Konstantina Lukes expressed concern Thursday when speaking with GoLocal that Worcester -- and Massachusetts -- residents were being turned off by political process in the state.

"Bottom line, it's a one party state," said Lukes. "There's a lack of ability for reflection or criticism of elected officials.  It's a one-sided procedure.  Just look at low voter turnout here in Worcester in the last election."

Switching gears to the impending upcoming vote on the proposed slots parlor in Worcester, Lukes was concerned about its timing. "Watch out to see when the vote is scheduled for," said Lukes, an outspoken opponent against the proposal.  "The majority of the testimony we heard [on the City Council] was in opposition," said Luke.  "The Council could have voted to stop the proposal right then and there, as other communities in the state have."

"If the vote ends up being scheduled in the summer, look for low voter turnout again," said Lukes. 

Regarding voter apathy, both at the polls and in reaction to lack of transparency, Lukes said, "Maybe people just don't expect much from their elected officials." 

 

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