Selectmen Respond To Open Meeting Law Complaints

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law

News

HARWICH — Selectmen on Monday night rejected a charge by former board member Linda Cebula that they violated the Open Meeting Law last month.

Cebula alleged the board violated the law by its agenda for the Nov. 13 meeting lacking “specificity” and a posting error for the board's interview/nomination subcommittee on Nov. 16.

In the instance of the Nov. 13 meeting, Cebula stated selectmen provided “no indication that votes would be taken. During the course of the meeting, votes were taken. How is the public to know what business is going to be conducted if the agenda lacks specificity in notification?” Cebula stated in the complaint.

In their response, selectmen said it was “reasonably assumed” that there will be possible votes taken when items are posted on an agenda. The board further stated that in the Open Meeting Law guide, in the section titled “Notice” and “What information must meeting notices contain,” there is no mention that it must be stated on the agenda that votes will or will not be taken.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said Monday night the Attorney General's Office has ruled that agendas do not have to specifically state that a vote will be taken.

The other complaint cites a correction to the initial Nov. 16 meeting of the interview/nomination subcommittee. The original agenda had the date of the meeting as Oct. 16, and it was corrected and republished, but did not reference the previously posted agenda. “The original agenda was removed from the town website so it was impossible to see if anything else has been changed,” Cebula's complaint stated.

In its response the board stated the agenda was originally posted with an incorrect date and replaced by a revised agenda with an explanation of the revision. “Ms. Cebula requests that the selectmen revote the items from this meeting. This was a meeting of the selectmen's interview/nomination subcommittee and no votes are taken during interviews. In this case, an explanation for the revision was given, but the date and time of the original posting had not been listed.”

The selectmen's response states the town realizes that in the posting of the revised agenda the information was not entered as outlined in the Open Meeting Law guide. “It was not the town's intent to violate the spirit of the Open Meeting Law. In the future, the town will be more diligent regarding the posting of both agendas and revised agendas (including changes made and referencing the original posting dates and times) for the board of selectmen, as well as all town boards, committees and commissions, to ensure a strict compliance with the Open Meeting Law and the Open Meeting Law guide.”

The town's letter to Attorney General Healy points out the Open Meeting Law and the guide are provided to each member of all boards and training session and Webinar dates have been provided to the members of the board of selectmen. The town also has a training session available on the town website that was presented by KP Law, P.C.

The Attorney General's Division of Open Government is expected to review the complaints and the response by the board of selectmen and determine if a violation occurred.