One of the more interesting stories we covered this week had to do with a report about a local conference.
On the surface, the report might not have seemed like a big deal.
It was the report summarizing the Maritime Summit hosted last November by the city of Gloucester, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Area Planing Council and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The report included a number of fairly predictable recommendations — namely, that the city should look to draw "research institutions" to the waterfront to help anchor marine science and marine technology industries, and that Gloucester should strive to ease permitting for those types of development, while still preserving current waterfront industries.
The most interesting aspect, however, was what the report didn't say.
An earlier "draft" of the document, as we reported in March, included recognition that the city should press for easing the state's Designated Port Area regulations, which limit development within its boundaries to uses that are at least 50 percent "marine-dependent."
The initial story certainly noted that the "report" at that point was a draft, not a finished document. It wasn't, at least in theory, open to additional comment from residents and local business owners.
So, now that the final report is out, should we have reported on the initial "draft?" Why would we jump the gun before the final report was finished? Why, in other words, would your community's newspaper do that?
The answer is simple. If there is a "draft" of any such written report, ordinance, or finding — and we are able to get our hands on it — we're going to share it with you. While such a document might still be in the works, so to speak, it at least gives the reader the chance to see what any report might include. And in this case, it actually shed light on a little bit of inside politics.
Once the draft was publicly reported, a number of people who had participated in the summit cried foul, saying that the summit had not, in any way, agreed to seek a loosening of the DPA — and that the issue was never really discussed. As it turned out, the city administration and the MAPC added the DPA-related language to the draft, with the idea of making the report more of a steering document for the future than a report focused squarely on the summit. There's something to be said for that.
But when pressed, city officials heeded the calls of other summit participants and members of a harbor plan working group, and watered down the report to its final version.
This is not the first time that our reporting on a "draft" allowed readers to get a look at information that city officials and others may have wanted hidden, or revisited. The initial draft of the 2011 Pleasant Street fire "after action" report from Municipal Resources Inc., while requiring some "correction" of some staffing numbers and other nuts-and-bolts material, offered a more critical review of the department's handling of the blaze before it was reviewed by city officials and sent back for revision. The same can be said for ordinance or development plans, that are almost always brought forward in draft or preliminary form.
Simply put, if we get our hands on an important document — even in draft or preliminary form — we're going to get the word out to you regarding what's in it.
That's so you know what's happening and in some cases have input to it before it's finalized — in other words, before it may be too late.
As always, let me know what you think.
Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you'd like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000 x3438, or firstname.lastname@example.org.