AG's Office Finds No Open Meeting Law Violation

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law

News

HARWICH — The board of selectmen did not violate the state Open Meeting Law when it failed to conspicuously record the date and time of a revision to the notice for its Sept. 18 meeting, the Attorney General's Office has ruled.

The decision issued by the Division of Open Government pointed out the board conceded it did not record the information cited in a complaint filed by Barnstable County Commissioner Ronald Beaty. The decision stated it has been a longstanding interpretation of the Open Meeting Law regulations that notices that are revised within 48 hours before the meeting must conspicuously record both the date and time of the revision and the date and time that the notice was originally posted.

“Our office recently codified this rule in the revised regulations that took effect on Oct. 6...The requirement does not apply here, however, because the revision was posted more than 48 hours in advance of the meeting. And the original notice did properly record the date and time of its original posting. Accordingly, we find no violation,” Assistant Attorney General wrote Hanne Rush in a letter issued on Dec. 5.

She added, “While we find no violation due to the timing of the revision, we note it is certainly a best practice to record the date and time anytime that notice is revised. We commend the board's commitment to ensuring compliance with the Open Meeting Law going forward.”

The complaint was resolved by “informal action,” Rush wrote, but added the determination does not address any other complaints that may be pending with the division or the board.

Less than a month ago, former selectman Linda Cebula filed two Open Meeting Law complaints against the board of selectmen and its interview/nomination subcommittee. Cebula in one complaint cited the absence of “specificity” on the board's Nov. 13 agenda regarding whether votes would be taken (votes were taken at the meeting). Prior agendas included “discussion/possible vote” notifying the public decisions would be made, she said.

Her second complaint raised similar concerns to that of the one Beaty had filed relating to the selectmen's Sept. 18 meeting. However the complaint was filed against the board's subcommittee for its Nov. 16 meeting. The original posting stated the meeting was scheduled for Oct, 16, not Nov. 16, the actual date of the meeting. She charged that the revised agenda did not indicate the date and time of the original and revised postings nor did it reference what was revised. Cebula said she is seeking to have the subcommittee re-post the meeting and revote the actions taken.

Beaty two years ago also filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the board of selectmen, challenging the board's use of the term “wastewater moment” placed on its agenda. That complaint was dismissed because it was not filed in a timely manner.