- Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2020

Editorials from around New England:


Lamont must be open about State Pier deal going forward

The Day

Jan. 16

Upon finally reviewing the memorandum of understanding that outlines the tentative terms of a public-private deal to overhaul State Pier, transforming it into a hub to support offshore wind energy development, our primary reaction was why the heck was the state so reticent to release it?

It follows fairly closely the terms summarized by Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials back on May 2, when the deal was first announced at a New London waterfront news conference. The document itself, while wasting ample space and, we suspect, needless legal fees on a confidentiality section filled with the typical mumbo-jumbo, gets to the point: “The parties acknowledge that … the CPA is subject to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (‘CT FOIA’) and nothing herein is intended to contradict or limit the obligations of CPA under CT FOIA.”

CPA refers to the much-troubled Connecticut Port Authority, which is responsible for the administration of State Pier and a signatory to the agreement. Yet when The Day sought access to the memorandum- a public document possessed by a quasi-public agency - it was denied. And when a Day columnist repeated the request a few weeks ago, this time to the governor’s office, he was basically ignored.

This approach did not serve the Lamont administration well. It contributed to suspicions about a project that the editorial board feels could be transformative. A project that would finally see State Pier used to its potential. This would happen not only by making the New London port a major player in a desperately needed expansion of renewable energy, but by also leaving the port - once that wind farm work is done - better equipped to handle a broad range of heavy-lift cargo.

And the lack of transparency - needless in retrospect - was part of a pattern. Recall that back at that May news conference, Lamont “announced that the state and its partners have reached an agreement on a harbor development plan for State Pier.”

Well, yes and no. What was reached was the memorandum of understanding. Extensive negotiations remained before a final deal could be signed. Those talks continue. That was not made clear. The memorandum should have been released that day, providing transparency. But instead of the CPA and administration giving the full picture, they allowed information to surface in dribs and drabs, the result of aggressive reporting. It only fed speculation about what folks were hiding.

Our desire is that the administration’s change of heart in releasing the document on Tuesday - its recognition, perhaps, that it had been doing itself no favors in dodging inquiries about its release - is the turning of a page and the start of the open approach the governor will take on this matter moving forward.

The broad outlines of the memorandum call for the Ørsted/Eversource partnership to invest $55 million in infrastructure improvements to make State Pier ready to prepare and transport components to its planned offshore wind farms. That improved infrastructure would remain when the Ørsted/Eversource leasing of the facility ends. The state would contribute $35.5 million.

The port authority would receive another $2.5 million from the wind farm developers during the three-year development project, bringing the total investment to $93 million.

David Kooris, chairman of the port authority board, tells us details will change as a result of the continuing negotiations, some perhaps substantially. An agreement could be presented to the authority board Jan. 21. While some specifics could be protected from disclosure as proprietary, the public should be informed of the parameters of the deal and allowed to be heard at a hearing before any final vote.

Deadlines in the memorandum have already been missed. The developers face target dates contained in their offshore energy production contracts. So we recognize the need for the process to move forward expeditiously, but it cannot do so at the expense of public input.

Memorandum language stating “the CPA shall be responsible for excess costs, whether from the state or CPA sources,” is concerning. A final deal cannot expose the state to any blank-check obligation for overruns.

New London still does not have that representative on the port authority board promised by the governor nearly a year ago. It adds to our concern that the host city will not get fair treatment. Details of compensation to New London must accompany a final deal.

It is hard to mess up something this positive. A major reinvestment in State Pier. A massive renewable-energy project. The promise of construction and permanent jobs. Yet a fumbling and obscured approach has done just that. It’s long past time to clean things up.

Online: https://bit.ly/2G2Hane



Voters in Maine and across U.S. deserve functioning FEC in 2020

Bangor Daily News

Jan. 14

The 2020 election is expected to bring unprecedented campaign spending to Maine, and with it an onslaught of political advertising. It sure would be nice to have a fully functioning Federal Elections Commission to give voters confidence that campaigns, political parties and outside groups are following the rules as that happens.

Unfortunately, the country’s elections watchdog agency still doesn’t have enough commissioners to carry out critical functions like voting on enforcement decisions, passing new rules, or providing advisory opinions. The FEC can still process and publicize campaign finance information, but with only three current commissioners following a resignation earlier this year, the agency’s ability to actively enforce campaign finance law is severely undermined.

While the FEC has never been a model of enforcement productivity and effectiveness, it nonetheless performs a critical democratic function by bringing some order and transparency to what often feels like a wild west of campaign spending. It would be a serious mistake for the U.S. Senate and White House to allow this agency to continue to be largely sidelined during a presidential election year.

All three of the current FEC commissioners are serving expired terms. The White House, which nominates commissioners, and the Senate, which confirms them, haven’t been able to reach an agreement on getting the agency back to full strength. One suggested avenue forward has been to nominate and confirm a block of six new commissioners. A similar approach broke an FEC nomination logjam in 2008, and we hope cooler heads will prevail again.

Obviously there are a few other matters necessarily occupying time and energy in Washington right now, but the lack of a quorum at the FEC cannot get lost in the shuffle.

Thankfully, a bipartisan group of campaign finance lawyers are trying to make sure lawmakers and the White House don’t lose sight of this issue. According to the Washington Post, these 31 lawyers, despite representing clients with vast political differences, are unified in their belief that America needs a fully functioning FEC.

“In representing those clients, we often find ourselves in adversarial positions in the legal arena,” they wrote. “Yet we are united in our commitment to the rule of law and the need for the agency tasked with regulating federal campaign finance laws to fully function and carry out the mission assigned to it by Congress.”

Campaign finance reform is an unfortunately partisan issue, but regardless of the often competing visions from Democrats and Republicans of how money should and shouldn’t factor into political activity, the federal government needs a referee to make sure the political players follow the rules we do have in place. Ensuring that the legal entity tasked with campaign finance enforcement and education has a basic ability to function should be a no brainer regardless of party, especially leading up to a presidential election.

“Our hope is that it will help to show a united front, that this is not a partisan issue,” Cleta Mitchell, a longtime Republican campaign lawyer and one of the leaders of the letter, told the Washington Post. “Can we not just agree to hold the rule of law?”

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub has emphasized that the agency is still open for business and conducting some of its functions, but acknowledged the problematic state of affairs in her 2019 end of the year report - including a backlog of 101 pending enforcement matters that will only grow while the agency remains hobbled.

“The nation is bitterly split along partisan lines and our democracy remains under sustained attack from foreign adversaries. And the agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign laws that will govern the 2020 election remains without the four Commissioners it needs to make most of its major decisions,” Weintraub wrote. “It is, to be charitable, less than ideal.”

We aren’t feeling quite so charitable. From our perspective, the situation is irresponsible, and it’s unacceptable. The Senate and the White House need to address it, and soon.

“It’s starting. It’s now,” Mitchell said about the 2020 election process. “We need a fully functioning Federal Election Commission. It’s really inexcusable for people to not realize that it’s time to do this.”

As journalists in a state that is all but guaranteed to be mired in political ads and accusations for the next nine months, we could not agree more.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FXbm3n



Reflecting on hope and despair

The Sun Chronicle

Jan. 20

If Martin Luther King Jr. Could return today, a half century since his death, would he view the current state of race relations in America with despair or hope?

Would he lament the continued evidence of institutional racism in the life of the nation, the repeated incidents of police misconduct towards people of color, the ongoing disparity of income between white and black communities?

What would he make of the nation’s chief executive who consistently uses racially charged language — to great applause from his supporters — but who seems unaware of its impact and proclaims himself “the least racist person you have ever met?”

Would he see the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its implacable foes on the alt-right as the end of his plea for reconciliation between the races? Would he come to believe America could never escape its deeply scarring history of slavery?

Or would he have found hope in a newly assertive generation of young African American people who have pressed for a change in national attitudes about race and class, not as a gift of the white majority but as a matter of right?

Would he have hailed the progress in attitudes that saw the last vestiges of legal “Jim Crow” expunged from the nations law books in the years after his death? Would he have looked with pride on the number of men and women of color in state legislatures and the Congress and the election of the nation’s first African American president?

We think it would be the latter.

As a Christian and a preacher, Dr. King would have had to reject despair. As an American he held out hope that the nation, whatever its failings and faults, could “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

It’s sometimes forgotten that King, in his most famous speech, linked his own dream to the American Dream — the notion that people, wherever they came from and whatever their heritage, had a stake in building a society that promised equal opportunity, equal justice and equal rights.

It’s still a dream worth pursuing.



Proposed bill would shackle news media

Nashua Telegraph

Jan. 14

Newspapers are living history books, cataloging moments in time as they happen. The role of any news organization, including The Telegraph and its sister papers, is to convey accurate information at the time of reporting, while choosing what content to produce based upon the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

That amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Though it protects members of the media, it also blankets every United States citizen with these and other hallmarks of freedom.

Newspapers are living history books, cataloging moments in time as they happen. The role of any news organization, including The Telegraph and its sister papers, is to convey accurate information at the time of reporting, while choosing what content to produce based upon the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

That amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Though it protects members of the media, it also blankets every United States citizen with these and other hallmarks of freedom.

State Rep. Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, has introduced House Bill 1157 in stark contrast to the First Amendment, in an attempt to regulate where, when and how the media reports about criminal proceedings.

HB 1157, as proposed, reads, “the failure of a New Hampshire news media organization to update, retract, or correct an Internet published story concerning a criminal proceeding against a named person, immediately following written notification of the media organization by the injured person of a subsequent finding of not guilty, acquittal, or dismissal of the charges against such person in a criminal proceeding, shall result in the liability of the New Hampshire news media organization for any damages incurred by the person caused by such failure.”

This bill is set for a hearing Wednesday in the state’s House Judiciary Committee. We join with the New Hampshire Press Association, its members and media outlets throughout the Granite State to urge lawmakers to kill this proposed bill.

There are many issues with HB 1157, but before we debate those it is important to note many who contact The Telegraph to address any type of criminal or court proceeding in which they were named do so not in an effort to have such coverage updated. Instead, they want to erase history.

This means offers to update an arrest story or criminal proceeding coverage with a final verdict, dismissal or other outcome often isn’t good enough. Those impacted usually don’t want an editor’s note clarifying the status of an arrest or case.

What is requested – most frequently – is the equivalent of a PR wash of any mention of the initial event that prompted news coverage. At The Telegraph, we try to work with requests to accurately update stories. Individuals who seek these updates are asked to provide verifiable proof from a law enforcement or court source as to the outcome of a pending legal matter. They then are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

It is not the job of any media, including newspapers, to redact or rewrite history.

And neither the government nor the public good can have it both ways. Law enforcement often seek the media’s help to identify suspects, sometimes providing images from alleged crime-scene footage. In those cases, no one has even been arrested or charged. Yet, the publication of those photos or descriptions, which may be identifying to a person or persons, is relevant to public safety on that particular date at that particular time.

The same can be said of arrest logs, initial coverage of court hearings and other legal proceedings. It should not matter the format in which this content is published. Media have the right to choose any public record at any time for publication. Whether that occurs in print, online, via radio, TV or other form of media is irrelevant.

Newspaper archives have existed since The Telegraph’s inception as a weekly in 1832. The government – since the First Amendment was adopted in 1791 – has not been able to limit or compel what is published. It cannot abridge or lessen the content we publish any more than the government can abridge or lessen our right to publish what we choose and when we choose to do so.

HB 1157 clearly infringes on the news media’s right to control its own content and editorial decisions. There is a long line of U.S. Supreme Court cases showing that state and federal governments are prohibited from legislating what stories the media may publish and that state and federal governments may not compel the publication of editorial or advertising content.

One such example is the Miami Herald Pub. Co. v. Tornillo, 218 U.S. 241 (1974). In that case, the Supreme Court ruled a Florida “right-to-reply” statute requiring newspapers to print the response of political candidates to any negative articles published by the newspaper violated the First Amendment. The High Court noted, “The clear implication has been that any such compulsion to publish that which ‘reason’ tells them should not be published is unconstitutional. A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.”

In that same case, then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote, “according to our accepted jurisprudence, the First Amendment erects a virtually insurmountable barrier between government and the print media so far as government tampering, in advance of publication, with (sic) news and editorial content is concerned. New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S.Ct. 2140, 29 L.Ed.2d 822 (1971). A newspaper or magazine is not a public utility subject to ‘reasonable’ governmental regulation in matters affecting the exercise of journalistic judgment as to what shall be printed.”

Media outlets across the Granite State strive each day to present the most comprehensive and accurate local reports the day of publication. After that, coverage becomes historic information.

New Hampshire’s news media should not be shackled by the State Legislature to change the very foundation on which news is gathered and reported. Correcting a legitimate error is one thing, but being mandated to rewrite history to present day is unconstitutional.

Online: https://bit.ly/38h6DFF



Another serious baseball scandal

Providence Journal

Jan. 16

The Boston Red Sox were right to fire manager Alex Cora this week.

Mr. Cora was up to his neck in a serious and sickening scandal. He was bench coach for the Houston Astros in 2017, and a ringleader in the sign-stealing scheme that helped that team win the World Series, according to a nine-page report by Major League Baseball.

Mr. Cora, the report said, initiated the practice of calling the room where team officials studied replays to get information on the signs they had stolen. After MLB suspended his colleagues, manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, for a year, the Astros rightly fired them both.

Stealing signs is one of the oldest tricks in the baseball book, of course. The Providence Grays lost the 1882 National League pennant in part because Chicago White Stockings star Mike “King” Kelly had picked off Providence’s signs.

But using smarts and the naked eye is a different matter from employing immensely powerful technology, which is strictly forbidden under the rules. If one team cheats by doing that, it places other teams that follow the rules at a severe disadvantage.

And Mr. Cora’s alleged 2017 cheating may not be the end of it. Major League Baseball is now investigating the Red Sox’s use of the video replay room to steal signs during their 2018 season, which ended with winning the World Series.

Cheating destroys a game of inches, ruining fair competition. Over the years, baseball has had more than its share of problems with such schemes. Key members of the 1877 Louisville Grays were lured by gamblers to throw the pennant to the Boston Red Stockings. In 1882, a crooked umpire favoring Providence had to be fired. Another scandal erupted in 1919 when the Chicago “Black Sox” sold out the World Series. The widespread use of illegal steroids destroyed the record books and might have given such stars as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa an unfair edge - financial and otherwise - over players who did the right thing. Pete Rose, when a manager, bet on games his team was playing. Now this.

Mr. Cora was always a scrappy player of limited ability, looking for any advantage he could take to win. He may have pushed it too far.

Stealing two World Series would arguably be the most egregious crime by one man in baseball history.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the 1919 World Series theft in his classic novel “The Great Gatsby,” “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people - with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.”

But that’s what cheaters do. As the eponymous hero of the book famously observed, “He just saw the opportunity.”

Baseball’s use of an instant replay system to overturn umpires’ calls provided that opportunity. It adds some technological sizzle to the game but at a cost. It drags out the already brutal length of games. It drains away the emotion of questioning the umpire - including manager tirades - that has always been part of baseball’s color. It aims for an unattainable perfection that only dehumanizes a human endeavor. And, of course, it provides another avenue for cheating.

We wish baseball would fire the instant replay rule along with those who abused it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2NC6Pr3



Local coverage of meetings is crucial

Times Argus

Jan. 14

Most people who read their local newspaper are grateful for the coverage. Sometimes, it is quaint and folksy. Other times it is gritty. Only on occasion does our local news coverage border on scary, which is a blessing.

Among those articles there are regularly what we refer to as “meeting stories.” We attend these meetings to chronicle the decisions that are being made by elected (and appointed) officials on our behalf. One of the greatest tragedies of a shrinking newsroom is: We don’t have enough reporters to be at all the meetings.

But this time of year, we’re around. We are upholding that tenet of the public trust by serving as the watchdog. Budgets require it. How your tax dollars are spent is a laborious process for towns and cities to hammer out, but it is equally mind-numbing for journalists - most of whom are assigned to multiple communities. That’s a lot of numbers, percentage increases (rarely decreases) and line items to keep track of.

And every winter, in the months leading up to Town Meeting Day, when budgets are being presented to boards, hearings are scheduled, and warnings and ballots are put into place, the newsroom is always abuzz over three points of interest.

First, there are rarely members of the public attending the meetings. The level of engagement is often limited to a gadfly or two (usually former public officials), the PEG access camera person and a reporter. That’s a generalization, of course, but many officials reading this are nodding in acknowledgment that the public, in large part, is not involved in how budgets are formed.

Second, the town budget of 50 (or even 25) years ago is not the same as the budget of today. There are state requirements here and fees there. Capital equipment often requires complicated financing (contingent on voter approval) and, heaven forbid, the calls for a bond issue. Especially on school boards, as soon as the superintendent starts talking about the CLA or the debt service, even the most devoted board members start to squirm in their seats. Running a community is an education, and being a layperson who is expected to grasp more than “health insurance rates are up” and “enrollment is down” can be a real challenge at a time where the state - and most communities - are not flush with cash. (Just look at how grand lists have changed in towns and cities outside of Chittenden County.)

Third, despite efforts to the contrary, many town officials either don’t follow the state’s Open Meeting Laws, or they choose not to.

Which brings us back to the watchdog.

“Open government is the best government.” It sounds good. It sounds like it is in the best interest of every taxpayer; it represents a transparency and structure that allows for open discussion - a public vetting of issues - a public vote, and the proper distribution of outcomes to voters (the taxpayers).

And yet, reporters attending meetings often return to the newsroom, consulting the secretary of state, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns or state statute for the state’s open meeting law (1 VSA §§ 310-314) and the public records law (1 VSA §§ 315-320).

“These laws implement the command of Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution that officers of government are ‘trustees and servants’ of the people and are ‘at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.’”

And what every good reporter knows is that “Every municipal board, council, commission and committees (legally defined as ‘public bodies’) of a municipality is required to comply with the Open Meeting Law. The Law applies when there is (1) a quorum of a public body; (2) involved in a discussion or taking action; and (3) the subject matter of the discussion is one over which the body has authority or responsibility.”

And yet many town officials do not know it. Meetings need to be warned. And when meetings have concluded, drafts of the minutes need to be posted in short order. Boards can’t go behind closed doors to discuss business unless it is under the provisions of executive session. And those provisions are: a personnel matter, a real estate deal, or a contract negotiation. And no action can be taken during an executive session.

You would be amazed just how often executive session is illegally used, even though the Secretary of State travels the state regularly to educate communities on how to see the process through correctly.

Where journalists cannot attend a meeting, public access television stations (Vermont has 25 covering more than 80% of the state) are recording or live streaming many of them. In Vermont, they are good partners in open government.

Local coverage of news is crucial - not just for what decisions are being made on behalf of voters and taxpayers, it is crucial for keeping our elected and appointed officials on task.

Online: https://bit.ly/38iBrpz

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