It’s hard to imagine what justification the town of Tisbury might claim for withholding minutes of selectmen’s meetings from the public. Yet more than a hundred days after the Gazette formally requested copies of minutes that mention Stop & Shop between the dates of January 1, 2014 and April 1, 2014, we have received neither the documents nor an explanation why they have not been released.
The Massachusetts Public Records Law could hardly be clearer. Its definition of public records is broad, the burden of proving a record is not public is on the custodian in charge and records are to be disclosed “without unreasonable delay,” and specifically, within ten days.
It was six weeks before the town provided any information requested by the Gazette, and still its response remains incomplete. To be clear, we sought minutes of both open and executive sessions of the board of selectmen — and received neither.
The Gazette has made multiple written requests directly and through an attorney, and has filed a formal appeal with the Secretary of State’s office. To date, it has stopped short of filing a lawsuit against the town, a remedy open to the newspaper, figuring the town would have the same interest as we do in minimizing legal expenses.
As another summer passes with no new plan for the eyesore that is the current Stop & Shop store, we persist in believing there is community interest in what happened out of the public eye that might offer some lessons for the future.
More to the point, we are alarmed that town officials would simply ignore a request for a staple of open government: minutes of selectmen’s meetings.
In a summary of the state’s public records law, Secretary of State William Galvin notes, “The founding fathers of our nation strove to develop an open government formed on the principles of democracy and public participation. An informed citizen is better equipped to participate in that process.”
We couldn’t agree more.