After the April land auction, Healey and the town’s board of selectmen, meeting in secret, got down to negotiating an agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag and their backers.
Two recent Open Meeting Law decisions show how this important legal tool can make town government more transparent, although the decisions aren't always clear cut.
In Milford, the selectmen were ordered by the Worcester district attorney's office to turn over minutes of an executive session held in July with a Colorado real estate developer considering Milford as the site for a resort casino.
After Worcester County Assistant DA David A. Tiberii found the selectmen violated "both the letter and the spirit" of the state Open Meeting Law by meeting behind closed doors to hear from the developer, the selectmen quickly complied and released the minutes, as ordered.
There are a handful of specific reasons why a town board or committee can close out the public and press. The Milford selectmen had cited one exemption that says a town board can close the doors to "consider the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property if an open discussion" might be detrimental to he negotiating position of the governmental body with a person, firm or corporation. In other words, the law says a board can have a private discussion among board members, but meeting with the man with whom the board might eventually be negotiating for the sale of town-owned land is exactly the opposite of what the exemption is for. If you're playing poker with another person, you don't show him your hand, then expect to successfully bluff.
It doesn't take legal fine print to know the meeting was a bad idea. Casinos are a hot-button issue in Massachusetts, and citizens should be justifiably outraged that elected officials would meet in secret with a casino operator - and even consider selling town land to make it possible - without a thorough public airing of the idea.
The League of Women Voters provides a comprehensive guide to understanding the law and what you can do you if believe it's been violated.
Because we're still scratching our heads about what was happening at all those secret meetings and executive sessions back in 2007 leading up to and following the casino chronicles. And look, thanks to Milford, which didn't even get to the Intergovernmental Agreement stage - we have precident! Their Board had to turn over the minutes.
So anyway, I go look up the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law for more information and come across this awesome site, which - lo and behold - offers on it's front page an example of selected case law. And you'll never guess what the case is.
District Attorney for the Plymouth District v. Board of Selectmen of Middleborough, 395 Mass. 629, 481 NE2d 1128 (1985) The Board could not hold executive sessions for purposes other than those enumerated in MGL chapter 39, sec. 29B.
Sure, this case is from 1985 but still - you just can't make this stuff up.