Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who Else Is Violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law?

Who has been violating the law lately? See the article at Massachusetts Common Cause, which reprints Jack Flynn's article for The Republican:
In Springfield, the state-run Finance Control Board voted behind closed doors last year to give Schools Superintendent Joseph P. Burke a $13,000 raise and one-year contract extension.

After an appeal by The Republican, Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett ruled that the vote should have been taken in public. He ordered the board to avoid any further violations.

In Boston, the City Council was caught skirting the law 11 times during a two-year period. In a 20-page ruling last year, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Nancy Staffier Holtz slapped the council with an $11,000 fine after concluding that the violations were intentional.

And in Amherst, the Select Board suffered two rebukes from Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel for illegally using e-mails to conduct business - once in 2005 to discuss the July 4 parade, and again in 2006 to discuss the Amherst Survival Center.
And in a report back in 2006:
Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating’s office has investigated 97 allegations of Open Meeting Law violations in the past five years, and last year found five such violations. Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz’s office investigated 106 in the past five years and found 24 violations.
Here are a few more:
  • "Georgetown School Committee's student affairs and activities subcommittee violated the state's Open Meeting Law when it failed to file and post notices for two meetings this year." (Boston Globe 11/19/06)
  • Needham Selectmen "violated the Open Meeting Law on three occasions in 2004 by discussing in secret session raising the cap from 10 years to 20 years on the lease of town-owned land. The golf club leases 58 acres from Needham." (Boston Globe 4/12/07)
Regarding the Boston City Council's violations, the Boston Globe article 3/28/06 summarizes them:
According to the lawsuit, the City Council held 10 closed-door meetings -- from June 3, 2003, to March 24, 2005 -- to discuss a request by the Boston Redevelopment Authority to renew its urban renewal program.

The suit also alleges that the City Council held a secret meeting on Jan. 20, 2005, to discuss the exposure of three Boston University lab workers to bacteria from tularemia, an illness caused by exposure to rabbits.

The problem is that there is no state requirement for collecting and tracking complaints of violations of the law. At least Massachusetts Common Cause is attempting to do so as a watchdog group.

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