The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Public Records Division has ruled against the town in support of Nantucket Current’s request for the release of a public survey about the ongoing search for the Nantucket Police Department chief position.
Back in May, the town put out that survey to get community feedback on the search for Nantucket’s next chief of police. At the time, Nantucket Current shared the survey link to help boost participation given the importance of the position. More than 200 people completed the online survey.
But when we requested the survey results, we were denied and told “The survey results are not intended for public distribution. They were designed to obtain input from residents, which will be used to assist with the search process.” That comment was from the town’s director of human resources Amanda Perry.
The results of this survey are important not only because they will help inform the decision of selecting Nantucket’s first new chief of police in nearly 20 years, but also to determine if the town is listening to the community and valuing the feedback it said it wanted.
So, we filed a formal Freedom of Information Act request with the town for the results of the survey, arguing that they should be made public and that there are no exemptions in the Massachusetts Public Records Law that allows the town to withhold them.
That request was also denied.
“Your requested survey is not public information as the data is being used to inform the recruitment process, which is still ongoing,” wrote Maureen Coleman, the town’s public records compliance officer, in an e-mail response to the Current on July 28. Coleman pointed to an executive summary of two questions asked in the survey, which the town posted online.
Unsatisfied with the town’s response, the Current appealed the denial to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Public Records Division.
The appeals process included additional correspondence with Public Records Division staff attorney Patrick Sullivan, including the town’s continued to fight against the release of the survey results.
“It is the Town’s position that disclosure of the detailed survey results would be premature and public dissemination of that information may influence the Town’s ongoing deliberative process with respect to such Police Chief search process,” the town wrote to attorney Patrick Sullivan, citing “exemption (d)” in the Public Records Law which allows the withholding of “inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters relating to policy positions being developed by the agency…”
But last week, the state’s supervisor of record Manza Arthur issued a determination in the dispute, ruling against the town and ordering it to release the requested records within 10 days.
“I find that the Town’s response does not explain how the results of the community survey are ‘inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters’ as required by Exemption (d),” Arthur wrote. “Further, the Town has not fully explained how their disclosure would taint the deliberative process. As a result, the Town has not sufficiently explained how the records are exempt from disclosure in their entirety pursuant to Exemption (d). The Town is reminded that ‘reasonably completed factual studies or reports on which the development of such policy positions has been or may be based’ are not permitted to be withheld.”
The town has indicated it will release the requested records by this Friday, Aug 25th. Stay tuned…