Monday, October 27, 2008

Somebody's Got Some 'Splainin' to do...

Ok. A few blog posts ago I linked to a terriffic Sean Murphy article which stated (emphasis mine)
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.
And here I was, probably like you, thinking there was absolutely nothing to do about it. But then, I read this from yesterday's MetroWest Daily News,
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.

So maybe some nice concerned Middleboro citizen should look into that.

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.


Anonymous said...

It is my understanding based on rumor and gossip, that the 'secret meetings' were not conducted in Executive Session with the full compliment of the BOS, but rather phone conversations among the 'players.'

Gladys Kravitz said...

I don't believe you need a full compliment of Board members, merely a percentage. But nevertheless, town business is town business. Why was it being 'conducted' or worse - 'negotiated' - via phone call? This seems even worse and less transparent. The fact that we must try and understand them based on 'rumor and gossip' isn't exactly an endorsement for tranparency.

Carl said...

What? Splain themselves and expose themselves publicly to more distain from the public whom they are supposed to serve and represent. That is not their cup of tea. I say we throw the tea overboard.

Anonymous said...

Phone coversations with selected members of the board? Oh yeah, that makes me feel SO much better.

No matter how you look at it, or how you spin it, the BoS violated the Open Meeting law, and the implied moral code imposed by the citizens which they represent. Or rather, most of the citizens. I think the casino supporters would excuse any illegal behavior if it meant they didn't have to drive all the way to CT.

Mark Belanger said...

One of the ways you can be in violation of open meeting law is to have a majority of the board meeting anywhere and discussing town business.

But our BOS would never do that.

Anonymous said...

To add more about our towns BOS, I was told by a current fireman that when one of their own (fireman) was on the board of selectmen, he actually did some town business with other selecmen as they came into the fire station to, well, sort of visit, that's what the selectman called it, "just a stop in to say hi". It wasn't, they could be overheard if you were in their vicinity.

This is true, he had no reason to lie about this, in fact he would be in BIG trouble if I revealed his name, because of our friendship and his trust in me, and to protect him and his family, I won't.

And the beat goes on!!

Anonymous said...

Were the minutes of those executive sessions in June and July and July of a year ago ever released?

Anonymous said...

Good question Anomymous on Oct. 27 @8:43p.
I would also like to know? Come to think of it was doing a FOYA on them.
Hey, did we ever hear or read anywhere what happened about this??? Did they receive them? and if so was anything amiss???
Come on, do your business, enquiring minds want to know!!!! Give us the FACTS.

Anonymous said...

Don't ask
Don't tell

Doesn't the "Freedom of Inforamation Act" allow any Middleboro tax payer to ask for the minutes of the closed meeting? For any meeting? For all meetings?

Somebody? Anybody gonna ask??

Gladys Kravitz said...

Dear Anons. 8:07 and 10:32,

Here is a link to Middleboro's Selectmen's Meeting Minutes. I read through some of them and it sometimes appears a casino wasn't ever proposed for Middleboro! But then, they did keep public casino discussions to a minimum.

I recall that CFO had used the Freedom of Information Act to aquire several boxes of information from the town in Sept. 2007.

The types of information you can obtain in Massachusetts can be found here

This is what it has to say about Records of meetings of boards and commissions:

Section 5A. The records, required to be kept by sections eleven A of chapter thirty A, nine F of chapter thirty-four and twenty-three B of chapter thirty-nine, shall report the names of all members of such boards and commissions present, the subjects acted upon, and shall record exactly the votes and other official actions taken by such boards and commissions; but unless otherwise required by the governor in the case of state boards, commissions and districts, or by the county commissioners in the case of county boards and commissions, or the governing body thereof in the case of a district, or by ordinance or by-law of the city or town, in the case of municipal boards, such records need not include a verbatim record of discussions at such meetings.

This is what is says about Failure to maintain public records of meetings

If you are interested, here is a link to FOIA generator that you can use to compose your own FOIA request.

Expect some cost for duplication.

Also, here is another corker of a site for FOIA information. On it's front page it states,

Don't be intimidated: anyone can become familiar enough with the law to make a difference.

I like it.


Anonymous said...

Allow me to point out that the pertinent statute in the Commonwealth is either the Open Meeting Law or the Public Records Law, both of which are linked on the right side of my blog. The Secretary of the Commonwealth has provided a very simple guide to the complex topic.
For lack of public interest, I mostly stopped pursuing the issue in February, but ANYONE can request a copy of a public document from the Town Clerk. If you want it, I might suggest that you request it rather than questioning if someone else has the information. It's your town government as much as CFO's. And just maybe it's also your right to the information.
If you want a copy of the Executive Sessions, I might suggest that you select a date and request it. The Town CANNOT charge you for the time required to review the minutes, delete the information that by statute will remain confidential (mostly personnel issues), but they CAN charge you for each page. If you review the statute, you will find that Executive Sessions are supposed to be reviewed and released periodically, which has NEVER been done in this town. The Town Clerk has had several conversations with the state attorney and is fully aware of the intent of the law.
The following is a pertinent post, but there's a search feature at the top of the blog and a search for 'public records' produces additional information -
Public Records
FOIA pertains mostly to the federal government and is unrelated to the discussion and the guide offered by the Secretary of the Commonwealth explains the long history of the public records law.
I had a number of lengthy conversations with state officials who are willing to travel to Middleboro and provide a presentation that they have offered elsewhere explaining Open Meeting, Public Record and Archives (which is part of the issue).
I am a firm believer that the more each of us understands about how town government is supposed to work and the pertinent laws, the better we can force town government to serve the town.
While this discussion pertains to the casino, allow me to digress briefly. A public hearing was conducted last year to address the water rate increases. After meeting with the Water Superintendent, Selectman Rogers presented the BOS with the rates, based on information presented contained on his LAP TOP.
I requested a copy of the information on which the rate increases were based and received a response indicating that no records existed within town hall. I spoke with Selectman Rogers several times and requested that he email that information to me directly. He forgot several times, but finally responded that the information was NOT available. So, a rate increase was granted based on no documentation and you accept that?
I haven't decided whether this is government by Mickey Mouse or Homer Simpson, but I believe each of us who continues to tolerate this conduct is equally to blame.
If anyone has additional questions, feel free to post a comment on any one of my blog entries and request a response including your email address.
I might also suggest that you begin a thread on nemasket and initiate a discussion.
Apologies, Gladys, for the length of my comment and the digression, but the casino focused your attention on dysfunctional town government still in need of repair.

Raymond Tolosko said...

Can you believe this crew is responsible for leading a town.... and with Jack Healey at the helm? No wonder Middleboro is in the state it's in. Anyone who still supports these guys is just WHACKED.

The deception is over the top. Thank goodness for you Gladys for revealing it're the best.

Gladys Kravitz said...

No Jacquie - I still can't believe it. I guess that's why I'm still here. I want people to see this situation for what it is - and not the painting the majority of the media has painted - that this was an endorsement of a casino in Middleboro.

And Middleboro Review - thanks so much for sharing your exhuastive knowledge of public information!

I believe CFO used the FOIA to obtain election information. I provided info on FOIA to let people see how very accessible it is.

The Selectman Rogers laptop situation is yet another symptom of poor governance. Hasn't Middleboro had it's primer on the OML?? I know Lakeville did.


carverchick said...

I haven't even gone through and read all the comments yet. I got as far as Bumpkin because when I read anon 157 and your answer Gladys, my first thought was - they did this to the Ghost Hunters and good ol' Bumpkin blogged it and reminded us here.

good thing we have bloggers who are interested in general town discussions and meetings and blog about it. It serves as a reminder of how wrongly and perhaps illegally that BoS handled the private "casino" discussions and decisions.

Yet another great post Gladys - nothing gets past you. May no stone go unturned.

Thank goodness you are on our side!!