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Walsh administration slow to release public records

Mayor promises to fix ‘breakdown’

“It inexcusable. The stuff that has been released in the past can and will be released,” Mayor Walsh said in an interview.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/File

The administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who vowed to increase transparency at City Hall, took more than two months to respond to a request for basic payroll information showing employee salaries and new hires.

Walsh released some of the data Thursday afternoon after the Globe asked for comment on a story about the administration’s reluctance to release public records. Using the state’s open records law, the Globe requested the information in early December as part of an assessment of Walsh’s first year in office.

“It inexcusable. The stuff that has been released in the past can and will be released,” Walsh said in an interview. “It appears this is an internal breakdown that I’m not happy about. It will be fixed.”

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Difficulty obtaining public records has troubled other city officials and government watchdogs. Councilor Charles C. Yancey said that while the Walsh administration had been forthcoming with quarterly financial data, he has been “disappointed” and “concerned” because it has been “very guarded” about contracts and payroll information.

Yancey has routinely sought payroll data and other information from mayoral administrations. Some of his requests have been thwarted by Walsh.

“Mayor [Thomas M.] Menino did a better job around transparency with personnel issues than the current administration,” said Yancey, who has served three decades on the council, spanning three mayors. “It’s easily rectified by the administration, but I certainly would not agree with anyone who said this is more transparent than the previous administration.”

The records released Thursday showed that since Walsh took office, the city has hired about 150 nonunion employees — the positions over which the mayor has most control. The data did not include all the information requested by the Globe, so a full analysis was not possible.

The largest number of nonunion hires came from ZIP codes in Walsh’s home neighborhood of Dorchester. Walsh has hired slightly more women than men, according to the data. The average salary was $62,000, although that figure could include part-time employees.

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Since Walsh took office, about 166 nonunion employees resigned, were fired, or retired. The largest number lived in Dorchester, West Roxbury, and Hyde Park.

Government agencies are required to respond to a records request within 10 business days and provide the records “as soon as practicable” and “without unreasonable delay,” according to the secretary of state’s office.

“The bottom line is this is our government,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “It needs to be conducted in the light of day and not behind closed doors. We have laws that require it. Apparently, they are being flaunted.”

Before becoming mayor, Walsh served 16 years on Beacon Hill, where lawmakers exempted themselves from many of the state’s open record laws. As mayor, Walsh hired his longtime legislative colleague and confidant Eugene O’Flaherty to serve as the city’s chief lawyer.

Walsh said his team has sought guidance from the secretary of state’s office about releasing some records, such as names and addresses.

Walsh reiterated that “public records should be available.”

Under the Walsh administration, the Boston Police Department took 4½ months to provide its daily journals, which record police activity, information many police departments make public on a weekly basis. The city has refused to release reports about police officers charged with drunken driving or a log of its internal investigations of police officers. The city also has not fully responded to a request for documents on its affordable housing program.

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In December, the Globe sued in Suffolk Superior Court, challenging the administration’s decision to withhold racial and ethnic data for city employees. Menino regularly released the information, but the Walsh administration has cited privacy concerns.

When Walsh took office in 2013, his first wave of hires included predominantly white men. During his first year in office, Walsh said he made a concerted effort to change hiring practices at City Hall. The city hired a chief diversity officer, Walsh said, and diversified the police command staff, while adding more people of color to the mayor’s Cabinet.

The administration has asserted that the city’s workforce is 3 percentage points more diverse than when Walsh took office but has not provided data to back it up.

“I have no way of evaluating whether that’s true or not because I haven’t seen the real numbers,” said Yancey, who received race and gender data several times a year from the Menino administration. “It’s important because we need to have a city government that not only reflects the demographic makeup of the city but that reflects a high level of empathy for all the residents — white, black, rich, poor.”

To test the administration’s diversity's claim, the Globe requested race or ethnicity data for all city employees. In the request, the Globe stated the city could withhold names. The Walsh administration has not provided the information, although it said Thursday it would soon. Walsh said he understood the desire to check his claims. “I think it’s important to have a check and balance system,” Walsh said.

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Delays in providing public records, the mayor said, was “not acceptable to me.”

“You can’t talk about transparency,” Walsh said, “and not back it up.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com.