"Transparency"? Civic engagement? After a string of closed-door meetings with municipal officials in Fall River, New Bedford, Quincy, Salem and, on Wednesday, in Framingham, Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't appear to be putting those words high on his "to-do" list.

"Transparency"? Civic engagement?

After a string of closed-door meetings with municipal officials in Fall River, New Bedford, Quincy, Salem and, on Wednesday, in Framingham, Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't appear to be putting those words high on his "to-do" list.

The governor met at the Memorial Building in Framingham with several town managers, including Framingham's Julian Suso, selectmen and several MetroWest lawmakers to discuss state finances and the souring national economic picture.

At least that's what we were told they talked about.

Pretty important topic these days, right? Probably issue #1 on everyone's mind as we close in on the election Nov. 4 and part of many worried discussions around the kitchen table.

So why would a governor gather together state and municipal decision-makers, pull them all into a meeting room at town hall and shut the door?

Asked in a brief Q&A with reporters after the Framingham meeting why he called these officials together, the governor said, "We're trying to be as transparent and constructive as we can be."

How can that be, when the meeting is closed to taxpayers, and the governor and many of those who were present hurry away after the meeting ends, like they were spring-loaded?

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law says "All meetings of a governmental body shall be open to the public and any person shall be permitted to attend any meeting" except as provided in a list of nine specific circumstances. But the Legislature made sure the law doesn't apply to it, to the governor's office or to the court system. The law applies to municipal government bodies when a quorum gathers to do the business of the town. For at least part of the Wednesday closed-door session, three members of the Framingham Board of Selectmen were present, which constitutes a quorum. Julian Suso said after the meeting that selectmen didn't conduct business or take any votes, but we would argue that selectmen discussing the dire financial picture in Massachusetts with the governor will certainly inform their votes in the future. And the fact the governor felt it was important enough to call this meeting in Framingham and at least four other communities means this issue of state finances is very important.

So why wouldn't that be a discussion open to the public? If selectmen called the meeting, at the governor's request, they would be under no obligation to allow members of the public to speak. The chairman controls the gavel, as it were, and if the governor wanted this to be a meeting of the minds, a sharing of ideas that might help him pilot Massachusetts through this fog, then that's what it could be, without interruptions from that pesky public.

In criticizing Patrick for holding the closed-door meeting at Salem City Hall last week, a Salem News editorial said the governor's office "advertized the meeting as a listening session. He also wanted to explain the recent budget cuts he'd made and talk about what might be coming down the road."

MetroWest residents might have a strong interest in hearing about those things - even if they could only listen, and not speak.

Since the governor isn't bound by the Open Meeting Law, why should he let transparency and the public's right to know get in the way of a meeting with municipal and legislative officials? Shouldn't those who govern be allowed to meet in private to discuss our collective future any time they want?

Most likely, Patrick wanted to give local officials some straight talk about how bad it's going to get. He may have wanted to hear their concerns and yank them into his own reality, one in which the state financial picture will leave local officials fighting over a few crusts of bread instead of half a loaf.

No one here has any delusion the economy is in good shape. We read it daily, in the reports of more layoffs, of the financial sector shrinking, the real estate market still struggling, and local retailers hurting from fewer sales and higher prices to stock their shelves.

With so much cynicism about state government that voters on Tuesday will be asked to vote whether they want to eliminate the state income tax, why would a governor close taxpayers out of such an important, ongoing conversation?

By doing that he puts the lie to any claim of transparency and he feeds suspicion among taxpayers - many of whom will vote on Tuesday - that government really doesn't work in their best interests.

I don't believe that, but this week I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why.

Richard Lodge is editor of The Daily News and writes a column published Friday. He also writes the Press Pass blog with reporter Paul Crocetti on the newspaper's Web site. To e-mail Richard: rlodge@cnc.com.