Airport Commission Rejects Open Meeting Law Violation Complaint

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Airport

A scene from last month's open house at Chatham Municipal Airport. The airport commission this week rejected a complaint that it violated the state's Open Meeting Law at its June 6 meeting. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – The airport commission has rejected a claim that it violated the state Open Meeting Law by prohibiting a resident from speaking at its June 6 meeting.

Resident Juris Ukstins filed a complaint June 21 stating that commission chairman Peter Donovan allowed a resident to criticize an airport commission member at the June 6 meeting, but when Ukstins tried to speak in defense of the commissioner he was not recognized. When he tried to speak again later in the meeting, Ukstins wrote in his complaint, Donovan intentionally refused to recognize him.

Later Ukstins emailed Donovan to ask why he was not allowed to speak, and the chairman responded that his comments in the past were “irrelevant” and asked Ukstins not to disrupt a meeting he is chairing again. “I will not recognize you,” Ukstins quoted Donovan's email as stating.

After receiving an extension from the Attorney General's Office of the 14-day response deadline called for in the Open Meeting Law, the commission discussed the complaint at its July 5 meeting. In a memo to the commission, Principal Projects and Operations Administrator and airport commission staff liaison Terry Whalen, noted that the Attorney General's Open Meeting Law Guide states that while the public is permitted to attend open meetings, “an individual may not address the public body without permission of the chair.”

Commissioners agreed no violation of the law occurred.

“But I think there was a general sense of confusion, because there was a speaker who was allowed to speak on a topic, and a second speaker who wasn't allowed,” said member Tom Wilson. He asked that the chairman be more clear about who is allowed to speak at meetings.

Donovan said that as chairman, he's tried to allow everyone to speak at meetings who wants to. But he added that the situation “started to go off the rails at a couple of meetings” leading to frustration on his part.

“If everyone understands the rules of the meetings, we can hopefully get back to everyone being allowed to address the commission,” he said.

Asked by commissioner Paula Lofgren if he will hold to his statement the Ukstins could not speak at future meetings, Donovan said that was stated in frustration. He will allow Ukstins to speak at meetings, Donovan said.

The commission voted unanimously that no violation of the Open Meeting Law occurred. The response was due July 15, after which Ukstins has 30 days to appeal. Contacted by email last week, Ukstins said he had not received the response yet and would decide on an appeal when he received it.

The incident occurred at the meeting prior to the commission's June 13 session at which Donovan stopped video recording of the proceedings when a person came to the podium without his permission. The police were called to restore order to the meeting, though no action was taken.

Although there has been talk that Donovan may have violated the state's public records law by stopping the tape, as of this week the Massachusetts Secretary of State's public records appeal website did not list any complaints filed regarding that session.