Former Selectman Files Open Meeting Law Complaints

By: William F. Galvin

News

HARWICH — Former selectman Linda Cebula has filed two state Open Meeting Law complaints against

the board of selectmen and its interview/nomination subcommittee. One relates to “specificity” of the agenda and the other challenges steps taken when revising an error in the date of a meeting.

In her complaint Cebula cites the Nov. 13 meeting of the board of selectmen as providing “no indication that votes would be taken. During the course of the meeting, votes were taken” on several items listed on the agenda.

“How is the public to know what business is going to be conducted if the agenda lacks specificity in notification?” Cebula asked in alleging a violation of the law.

She states prior agendas indicated “discussion/possible vote” to tell the public an action may or may not be taken during the meeting. When Cebula served on the board of selectmen, she said member Ed McManus made a point of demanding discussion and possible vote be included to tell the public what was going to happen.

“It's specificity,” Cebula said.

In her complaint, Cebula said she wants all future agendas to “notice the public that votes may be taken.” For this specific meeting she is requesting the items voted be reposted on a future agenda and the board vote on them again. She is also requesting all personnel, including boards and committee, be made aware of the requirements for public notice through a formal written memo.

One of the items voted that evening was the selectmen's unanimous vote not to confirm the housing authority's vote to appoint Cebula's husband, Robert MacCready, as the authority's representative to the community preservation committee, on which he has served since 2008. Selectmen cited the inability of MacCready to fulfill the entire term of the appointment because his appointment to the authority expires in May.

When asked if that was a reason for filing the complaint, Cebula responded: “No, unlike what happens on the board of selectmen, nothing is personal.”

But Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said on “two separate public occasions she has said 'I'll get even.'”

“I think he's (MacAskill's) cute,” Cebula said when asked about having made that comment. “If he thinks I said that then he should have talked to me about that, instead of making an end run to the newspaper. I have it from direct sources he said I 'will never get on another committee again.'”

Cebula had been serving on the planning board, but when selectmen made adjustments a few months ago to the board membership to comply with the town's home rule charter, Cebula's position was terminated. She also has applied to the interview/nomination subcommittee to be re-appointed to the planning board.

“They had the right to do what they did,” Cebula agreed. “But they've had three open positions and you don't see my name there.”

MacAskill said the board is scheduled on Monday night to vote on a written response to Cebula's complaint. If Cebula is not satisfied with the response, the complaint would then be sent to the state Attorney General's Division of Open Government for further review.

MacAskill said he has talked with legal counsel in the Attorney General's Office and has been told it is not necessary to state that a “possible vote” may be taken on items on an agenda. That is a given assumption.

The second complaint states that the original agenda for an Oct. 16 meeting of the interview subcommittee was revised to correct the date to Nov. 16 and republished. “However, the revised agenda did not indicate the date and time of the original and revised postings nor did it reference what had been revised. The original agenda was removed from the town website so it was impossible to see if anything else has been changed,” the complaint states.

The action Cebula is seeking from the subcommittee is a reposting and revote of actions taken at the Nov. 16 meeting. “Since the BOS (board of selectmen) has recently enforced this on other BCC (select committees), town administration/BOS should formally notify all BCC of this rule, via a formal written memo,” the complaint states.

“We had the date wrong and we accept that,” MacAskill said. “We revised it a short time later. This smells like getting even.”