Monomoy School Committee Rejects Open Meeting Law Complaint

By: Tim Wood

Dr. Scott Carpenter. FILE PHOTO

The Monomoy Regional School Committee has rejected an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by a former member alleging that committee members discussed business that was not listed on the agenda of its March 12 meeting.

Karen Ryder, who served on the committee from 2015 to 2017, said she plans to file an appeal of the committee's decision with the state Attorney General's Division of Open Government.

Ryder alleged that at the committee's March 12 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter brought up the results of the March 7 Chatham Special Town Meeting during his regular superintendent's report segment of the meeting. Five members of the committee discussed the special town meeting, at which voters approved spending $75,000 on a study of the feasibility of building a new senior center on Monomoy Regional Middle School property along Stepping Stones Road. The topic was not listed on the agenda separately and therefore should not have been discussed by the committee, Ryder alleged in the complaint.

The committee had previously discussed the special town meeting proposal and “reasonably could have anticipated and placed the actual results of the STM vote as a matter for specific discussion on the agenda of March 12th,” Ryder's complaint, filed April 9, contends. Leaving it off the agenda was deliberate, she alleged, “to prevent members of the general public from being present to discuss the matter of the Chatham STM...”

The committee discussed the complaint at a special meeting April 21. Members voted unanimously that the action did not violate the Open Meeting Law.

Carpenter said at the meeting that there was nothing for the committee to discuss about the vote, since it voted in February not to relinquish control of the property, which would be necessary for the town to assume ownership and use the Stepping Stones land for a senior center. His comments and those of committee members did not constitute deliberation, he added.

“It's things that you are going to deliberate on and ultimately make a decision on that are things you post on an agenda,” he said.

Committee member Tina Games noted that the issue was raised in public session at the beginning of the March 12 meeting by Chatham resident Seth Taylor and Carpenter said he would be addressing the special town meeting vote under the superintendent's report segment of the agenda.

In an April 28 letter responding to the complaint, School Committee Chair Jackie Zibrat-Long wrote that Carpenter is not subject to the Open Meeting Law and therefore cannot be in violation by discussing something that was not on an agenda. School committee members who spoke after Carpenter brought up the subject did so “with regard to comments from members of the public at the special town meeting,” she wrote.

“The committee members did not deliberate over the underlying issue, i.e. the placement of a facility on the Middle School property,” Zibrat-Long wrote. Any discussion summarized what occurred at prior school committee meetings, she added. And any comments made in response to Taylor at the March 12 meeting were not a violation of the Open Meeting Law because committee members could not have anticipated that the subject would be brought up, the letter reads.

In her complaint, Ryder asked that Carpenter and Zibrat-Long be “financially sanctioned to the maximum extent of the law.” She also requested that the five members of the committee who participated in the March 12 discussion—Long, Nancy Scott, JoAnn Sheehan, Joseph Auciello and Games—and Carpenter attend an Open Meeting Law training session and “provide proof that they have a clear understanding of the law.”

Since the committee did not violate the law, Zibrat-Long wrote in her letter, “no remedial steps are necessary.”