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State orders records for documents in AHS rebuild released

public records request

The state School Building Authority has been ordered to turn over records about initial designs for a new Arlington High School.

Rebecca Murray, the state supervisor of records, says the authority has 10 business days from the date of her June 12 decision to provide Chris Loreti with plans submitted to the state in April. The records may be redacted "where necessary."

The decision says that the authority's argument about terrorists' seeing plans were not supported by "sufficient factual heft" to warrant withholding records.

"This is especially pertinent given the fact that the Town, which provided the MSBA with the PDP [school-design submission], has disclosed the majority of the PDP to the public," Murray wrote. In short, the town has already provided many of the records that Loreti wanted to see.

Resident aims to know what is behind cost

The resident persisted in his public-records request in order to see all documents that the school department submitted. He would like to know what is behind the project's costs, estimated early in the process at $287 million to $298 million.

Loreti commented June 17: "The decision by the supervisor of records is exactly what I expected. I appreciate her prompt issuance of an order to the MSBA to produce the records, and look forward to the MSBA's compliance with it."

Murray's decision, in a letter to Brian P. Kelley, an attorney for the authority, recounts the history of the case, leading to Loreti's appeal. She then makes these points:

-- The authority's June 5 and June 8 responses were provided to support the agency's claim of citing Exemption (n) in the state's Public Records Law to withhold the school-design records in full.

-- Exemption (n) allows for the withholding of certain records which if released would jeopardize public safety. The agency's argument cited this court decision -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) v. Dep't of Agric. Res, 477 Mass. 280 (2017) -- which raises the specter of terrorism.

-- Further, the authority must provide the "factual and contextual support for the proposition that disclosure of the record is 'likely to jeopardize public safety.'"

-- The PETA decision provides the following: "[i]n this regard, it is well to note that exemption (n) is unique among the public records exemptions in its inclusion of the phrase 'reasonable judgment of the record custodian.' .... Such language neither requires nor even invites any heightened level of deference to the records custodian's initial determination whether to disclose or withhold a record."

-- Murray writes: "In light of the above, as well as the statutory language in Exemption (n) that provides that the reasonable judgment of the record custodian is subject to review by the supervisor of public records, I find that the MSBA has not provided 'sufficient factual heft' to conclude that a reasonable person would agree with the MSBA's decision to withhold the PDP, in its entirety, under Exemption (n) in this case. This is especially pertinent given the fact that the Town, which provided the MSBA with the PDP, has disclosed the majority of the PDP to the public.

"Therefore, I find that the MSBA has not met its burden of demonstrating that the entire PDP may be withheld pursuant to Exemption (n)."

The authority would have to comply by Tuesday, June 26.

June 8, 2018: Terrorism? State balks at records pleas for documents in AHS rebuild 
Feb. 15, 2017: Mass. agencies increasingly cite terrorism risk to withhold records
Nov. 25, 2016: Mass. sees flurry of plans for pricey high schools
Dec. 1, 2017: 5 Most Expensive High Schools in America
June 6, 2018: AHS rebuild process moves toward one design by end of June

This news summary was published Sunday, June 17, 2018.

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