HARWICH — Selectmen received a public records request from Leo Cakounes Monday night seeking emails sent and received by W. Matthew Hart in his capacity as chairman of the Saquatucket Harbor development committee and the waterways committee. If the committees have been deliberating through email, that would be a violation of the state Open Meeting Law, Cakounes said.
“It has come to my attention that Mr. Hart uses his private emails to conduct the business of the town of Harwich. On a least one occasion the selectmen were copied and included in the email correspondence. The committee members constantly correspond with each other in this manner,” Cakounes stated.
If the committee members are using emails to conduct the town's business there could be a violation of the state Open Meeting Law.
“I was in possession of a number of emails sent out prior to town meeting using his title as chairman of the waterways committee. They were sent to the committee and other people. I want to see if he's sending it to the committee and whether the committee is responding. One could argue his opinion sent via email is a violation of the Open Meeting Law,” Cakounes told The Chronicle. “Through the public records request I want to see if he and his committee have been deliberating through emails.”
Cakounes raised the email issue on town meeting floor when he offered an amendment to the $3 million request for improvements to the Saquatucket Harbor landside project. Cakounes, who also serves as chairman of the Barnstable County Commissioners, cited an email sent by Hart referring to “one unqualified individual” who would be providing an amendment. Cakounes said that reference is to him.
The email sent by hart read in all capital letters, “We need your voice & vote at town meeting!” It continued, “Without regard for Public Safety, Legitimate Economics or Extensive Planning one unqualified individual (just four days before Town Meeting) has decided to submit an Amendment that will divide, delay and destroy the 2017 completion of the Saquatucket Landside Project.
“He is doing this after over three years of public planning that has the unanimous approval of the Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator, Finance Committee, Capital Outlay Committee, Waterways Committee, Harbormaster, Conservation Commission, Saquatucket Development Committee and hundreds of taxpayers at those public meetings during the last three years; that he did not attend,” the email read.
Cakounes said the email was sent to all the members of Hart's committees. Cakounes' amendment to reduce the project to multiple phases and requesting $1 million for the initial phase was defeated on town meeting floor.
Hart said on Tuesday he made a mistake. He said he sends out monthly notices to the committee members relating to meeting agendas and they are public documents and can be found on the town website under agendas.
“Unfortunately I made up a web page,” Hart said. “It didn't say anything bad about him personally, it just disagreed with his policy on Saquatucket. I sent it out under what I thought was my email. It was a mistake to put those two things on there. I'm sorry.”
Hart stood firm that the information he sends to his memberships are strictly related to the committee meeting agendas and no committee business is discussed. He said he does not even take emails back from the committee members.
Hart said the emails are public and Cakounes can have them all. “I don't think I've done anything wrong,” he said.
Cakounes has requested all emails sent and received on Hart's private account relating to both committees where he sits as chairman from Jan. 1, 2015 through May 6 of this year.
Cakounes said he has cited the need in the past for the town to provide municipal email addresses for people serving the community. “This matter strengthens my position. Now people's private computers become subject to a public records request,” he said.
Under the state Public Records Law the town has 10 working days to provide the requested information.