Disclosure: not a dirty word

Menino's shame and Kerry's blunder. Plus, Olympic follies.
By EDITORIAL  |  September 30, 2009

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The City Hall e-mail scandal that has scored headlines in recent weeks exemplifies Mayor Thomas Menino's antagonistic — almost contemptuous — attitude toward public accountability.

All too often, the Menino administration has treated public scrutiny as a nuisance, something to be discouraged whenever possible — a policy that has landed it in hot water before for disregarding e-mails that legally must be kept.

As the Phoenix reported last year, a judge previously chastised the city for allowing (and in fact encouraging) the deletion of years' worth of e-mails at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Those mass deletions came to light as a result of a persistent, and very expensive, civil lawsuit brought by residents trying to uncover the truth behind the BRA's involvement in the questionable sale of public land for the building of a Roxbury mosque.

Now, the Menino administration has again found itself mired in e-mail trouble. The most recent controversy came to light when the Boston Globe requested copies of e-mails, including those of policy and planning chief Michael Kineavy. Following that request, the city should have discovered within days that copies of those e-mails had not been saved, either on Kineavy's computer or the backup servers.

Instead of admitting to a gross — even if perhaps inadvertent — violation of public-records laws, however, city officials dithered and delayed, nearly forcing the Globe to take the matter to court.

In the course of this charade, the city supplied the Globe with incorrect materials, charged exorbitant costs for retrieval, and placed ridiculous restrictions on access, before ultimately revealing that the requested e-mails didn't exist.

This is accountability Dick Cheney-style. Boston deserves better.

The Menino administration says there was no way of knowing that the e-mails in question were not being saved, that the secretary of state had not made clear the city's obligations, and that the man-hours and cost required for recovering such material was prohibitive.

This is nonsense: public officials throughout the nation must comply with Freedom of Information Act statutes, and most decent-size corporations are required to save documents under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other statutes.

If Menino's staff was unable to fulfill its obligations under public-information law, that is because the mayor has deliberately placed a higher premium on stonewalling the public than on being held accountable.

No way to honor Kennedy
Senator John Kerry blundered when he slipped into a military spending bill a $20 million appropriation for an educational institute honoring the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Without a doubt, Kennedy was a titan, worthy of being considered as historically significant as his Massachusetts forebears Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner. But funding an institution dedicated to the study of the US Senate by stealth would only help calcify the public's distrust of government and questionable earmarks.

An Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a promising idea. If it is to fly, it should do so on its own power.

Obama's folly
President Barack Obama's trip to Copenhagen to help sell his adopted hometown of Chicago as the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics is a misguided mission. Then-ritish prime minister Tony Blair set an unfortunate precedent when he became a huckster for the 2012 games, to be held in London.

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