WELLFLEET — The state supervisor of records Tuesday ordered Town Administrator Dan Hoort to reveal the name of the person who has offered the town $1 million towards the purchase of 250 acres of shellfish flats off Indian Neck.
The Banner requested the anonymous donor’s identity and any correspondence related to the offer under the state’s Public Records Law. Hoort denied it on May 24, writing, “I will not be releasing the donor’s name as they have requested anonymity.” He cited an exemption for materials “the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
In her June 11 order, state Supervisor of Records Rebecca S. Murray wrote that Hoort had not supplied a valid reason for withholding the information.
Murray cited a Mass. Superior Court decision, Douglas White v. Rebecca Murray, in which the court ruled that the name of an anonymous donor could not be withheld under the exemption used by Hoort. “The court found that ‘[t]he public’s interest in governmental oversight … substantially outweighs the relatively slight privacy interest at issue,’ ” she wrote.
Murray also cited two other court decisions in ruling that “a government agency may not make private an otherwise public document merely by entering into an agreement to keep its terms confidential. … If such were the case, any government employee could unilaterally frustrate the purpose of the Public Records Law with a rubber stamp.”
The exemption clause cited by Hoort “requires a balancing test which provides that where the public interest in obtaining the requested information substantially outweighs the seriousness of any invasion of privacy, the private interest in preventing disclosure must yield,” Murray wrote. “The public has a recognized interest in knowing whether public servants are carrying out their duties in a law-abiding and efficient manner.”
Hoort announced the anonymous $1 million offer in late March, a few weeks before town meeting voted to buy the flats from the HDYLTA Realty Trust for $2 million. “It’s someone who is personally known to me,” he said at the time. “I have no question that this person is completely sincere.”
In its appeal petition to the state, the Banner argued that “the identity of an unnamed person whose financial involvement in a major municipal land purchase is exerting a substantial influence on a matter of public policy” should be a matter of public record.
Murray ordered the town to comply with the newspaper’s public records request within 10 business days.
Neither Hoort nor select board Chair Janet Reinhart responded to a request for comment by the Banner’s deadline this week.