Monday, July 14, 2014

TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT

TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT

What does “transparency in government” really mean? For me it is the right of the people to know what the government is doing and how their taxes are being spent. Normally, this information is provided by those in charge during Public meetings, which are videoed and retransmitted through the local television stations. The important aspect is the local government making an attempt to keep the people informed.

However, there are incidences where the local government falls short on providing ALL the information as in the case of the Unitil Proposed to run a natural gas line to 4 Campus Avenue. On May 20, 2014, the Interim Town Manager provided a memorandum from the Town Engineer, Mr. Leighton on a proposal to use tax dollars to accomplish the Unitil project. The only document presented was a memorandum from Mr. Leighton. There were no maps, not distances, no written agreements between Unitil, Brunswick Housing Authority (BHA) and no exact amount the taxpayers were going to have to pay. However, the Interim Town Manager did state that Public Works personnel would be responsible for the trenching. The proposal was tabled until Mr. Leighton could be present and additional information could be provided.

At a Special Town Council meeting on May 27, 2014, Mr. Leighton provided the same memorandum but did provide a map to the council but not the people. During his presentation he did cite the distance of the project. However, there were no agreements for Unitil or the BHA and there was no actual cost provided. Mr. Leighton also stated that Public Works personnel would NOT be doing the trenching.

Under Maine Law an individual has a right to submit a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) to obtain information necessary for transparency. This is the option I use to obtain further information on various subjects. This information is then pasted on to the citizens of Lisbon through The Lisbon Reporter and Lisbonmaine.net. These are webs sites dedicated to providing residents of Lisbon with more information about what is going on in the community and how their tax dollars are being spent. This is to provide more transparency in our local government. However, Town Attorney Roger Therriault, in a legal opinion on June 10, 2014 states and I quote …”First, neither the Lisbon Reporter nor Lisbonmaine.net are traditional journalistic type enterprises. They are merely blogs and the degree to which they contribute significantly to public understanding of government activities is problematical at best.”… These web sites are problematic to local government because they provide the facts and not just the ones the local government want the people to know. How do you feel about that?

I was not happy with the lack of information about this Unitil project so I submitted a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) on May 30, 2014. I have submitted hundreds of request over several years and have always paid of the information provided but on June 2, 2014, I received an email from the Town Clerk stating and I quote “So far, Mr. Leighton informs me that he has so far approximately 100 copies of emails and potentially there could be well over 200 pages when he is finished. That’s 200 pages at 50 cents a copy or approximately $100 or more and will take may be another hour to complete. So far we have a little over 45 minutes into this. He estimates this could total approximately 2 hours at $15 an hour over the first free hour.” This means in order to get the information it will cost me approximately $130.00 dollars. Remember, this started out as a one page memorandum and has now blossomed into over 200 pages; isn’t that amazing what happens when you ask for transparency. This is a far cry from the one page memorandum submitted to the Council.

According to Roger Therrauilt’s legal opinion of June 10, 2014, he advises the town that this waiver will set a precedent. Mr. Therriault also goes on to say and I quote “Obviously the Town wants to be in a position of having at least a minimum amount of control over its responses to FOA requests and, frankly, the imposition of costs is the only control that the Town has where requests are voluminous and require significant staff and effort.” This is a practicing attorney advising the town to undermine Maine law. Every citizen in the state of Maine has a legal right to submit as many Freedom of Access Acts (FOAA) as needed in order to receive transparency in government.

On Tuesday at the Town Council meeting, the Council will review my request for waiving my fee on the FOAA which I submitted on June 4, 2014 in accordance with Maine law Title 1, Chapter 13, Sub Charter 1 Statute 408 paragraph 6(b) which states “The agency or official considers the release of the public record requested to be in the public interest because doing so is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of operations or activities of government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” I write for both the Lisbon Reporter and the Lisbonmaine.net with the sole purpose of providing transparency of government in Lisbon.

Total transparency in Government eliminates the need for FOAA Requests.

Larry Fillmore

3 comments:

  1. Dorothy FitzgeraldJuly 13, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    I wager that more people read The Lisbon Reporter and Lisbonme.net, than the Lewiston Sun-Journal, Times Record, and all other local publications put together. More and more people are turning to the internet for news and information than at any other time.

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  2. Well Dot if the stats are any indication, between both blogs we have well over 1,000,000 pageviews that million with an M.

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  3. I would say that that qualifies Larry Fillmore as a reporter as he writes for both.

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