‘Public meetings’ take place — minus the public

Community members were chagrined this week to learn “at the last minute” that one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s statewide budget forums was right here in their backyard.

About 30 individuals attended the Tuesday evening forum in Mattapan, hosted by Patrick’s health and human services chief JudyAnn Bigby, but many were healthcare union members from such groups as the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Others were involved in community health centers.

Attendees declined to go on the record with their complaints, adding that the forums are a good idea, but said that more community residents should have had a chance to weigh in.
A total of 36 forums have been planned throughout May, taking place in Franklin, Chicopee and East Boston, among other communities. The forums are aimed at engaging Bay State residents in the budget crisis facing the state, amid a decline in revenues and impending budget cuts. Patrick is also struggling with low approval ratings two years and six months into his first term as governor.

A media advisory on the local forum, held at Senior Foley Residences, was sent out mid-afternoon on Monday from Bigby’s office.

Bigby acknowledged that those who attended were mostly from “agencies that are experiencing the cuts.” But she added that notes from the forum will be put on the governor’s state website.

Bigby said that the forums were announced two weeks ago, and about 30 to 40 people attended the one in Newton last week. But the location of the Mattapan forum was not posted on the governor’s website until this week.

Similarly, a Massachusetts Highway Department hearing last Tuesday on improvements to Dorchester Avenue also was announced with little heads-up to community members, though a public notice was posted on the department’s website. The improvements are scheduled for 15 intersections along the street.