DeLeo urged to air House proceedings

In letter, 8 colleagues implore speaker to restore safeguards

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has received several letters from frustrated colleagues requesting a more open policy. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has received several letters from frustrated colleagues requesting a more open policy. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2009)
By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / January 22, 2010

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A growing group of dissidents in the Massachusetts House yesterday called on Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to open the chamber’s books, allow healthy debate on all bills, and subject the Legislature to the laws that cover other elected bodies - including laws on public records, open meetings, and competitive bidding.

“We want the House to become a functional democracy,’’ the group said in a letter, which was e-mailed to all 160 members.

Eight members signed the letter - four more than had authored previous letters criticizing DeLeo, a fellow Democrat.

The earlier letters were more narrow, challenging DeLeo to release details of $378,000 in legal bills the House paid in connection with the state and federal investigations of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. DeLeo has refused, citing lawyer-client privilege. He hired an outside lawyer, Daniel Crane, to review the bills, but has refused to say even how much Crane is being paid.

One of the lawmakers who signed yesterday’s letter, state Representative Will Brownsberger of Belmont, resigned his position as vice chairman of the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change earlier this week.

“At a time of continued financial pressure I think it’s more important than ever that we have an open management process in the House,’’ he said in an interview. “Hopefully over the months to come, members will feel more free to join in a conversation about the changes that are needed.’’

Said Representative Thomas Stanley, one of the original four dissidents: “The House is broken. Checks and balances need to be restored. Members are frustrated with the speaker’s indifference to our calls for an open democracy.’’

In an e-mailed statement, Seth Gitell, DeLeo spokesman, said the speaker “has worked to make the House a more open and transparent place’’ and has “kept an open-door policy with members, meeting with them in groups and individually’’ on many issues.

State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who is in her first term, defended DeLeo. “He’s been very open. He’s constantly made himself available to me, asking what he could do to help me represent my district better.’’

Ironically, she said, at a conference for new lawmakers last year, one of the legislators who is pushing DeLeo to make changes, Lida Harkins, urged newly elected lawmakers to follow the speaker’s lead.

“People want us to do the people’s business and not have infighting,’’ Ferrante said.

Harkins has said she will run for the state Senate seat of Scott Brown, the newly elected US senator. Others signing the letter were state Representatives John Quinn, Matt Patrick, Joseph Driscoll, Steve D’Amico, and William Greene.

Quinn said he has filed bills that have been bottled up for months in committee, including one in mid-August that would have provided sales tax relief to consumers.