The Attorney General’s Office has found the Town of Marion in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
In a letter dated December 19 and forwarded to The Wanderer by the complainant, the AG’s Office stated that the Marion Board of Selectmen was found to be in violation of one of the two Open Meeting Law complaints filed by Ronald Beaty of Falmouth.
His first complaint was on October 17, pertaining to the use of acronyms in the Board of Selectmen’s October 3 meeting agenda. He alleged that they used acronyms that are not widely understood by the public. Two of the acronyms cited in the letter are CMWRRDD, which stands for Carver Marion Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District, and MRC, which stands for Marine Resources Commission.
In his second complaint, Beaty alleged that the selectmen failed to meet to authorize a response to Beaty’s complaint before Town Administrator Paul Dawson drafted and sent a response on behalf of the selectmen.
Upon receiving the complaints on October 30 and November 21 respectively, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed the allegations, the board’s response, and the meeting minutes of the two meetings, and found the Town did not violate any Open Meeting Law when it came of the use of acronyms; however, it did find the board in violation of Beaty’s second complaint.
With regards to the acronyms, the letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Hannah Rush states, “The complainant alleges that the Board’s October 3 meeting notice lacked sufficient specificity because it contained three acronyms. However, the Board did not discuss those three topics during the meeting; instead, it decided to ‘table’ the discussion until the next meeting at which the chair would be present. When a public body does not actually deliberate on a noticed topic, the public body cannot violate the Open Meeting Law with respect to that topic.”
Rush continues in the letter, “We note, however, that our office discourages the use of acronyms that are not widely understood by … the public.”
As for the second complaint, the AG’s Office pointed out that the town administrator would have received the notice of Beaty’s complaint on October 17, the day the Board of Selectmen’s were scheduled to hold a meeting. The complaint, however, was not mentioned the night of the October 17, even though the next meeting wasn’t for another three weeks.
Rush’s letter states, “The Board contends that the complaint was received just hours before its meeting, so it postposed discussion until its regularly-scheduled meeting on November 7. Cognizant of the law’s requirement to respond to the complaint within 14 business days, the town administrator sent a response to our office … by the deadline…”
According to the law, when a complaint is filed, the chairman “shall disseminate copies of the complaint to members of the public body … to review the complaint’s allegations.”
By not meeting prior to responding to the complaint, the board was in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
During the November 7 meeting, Dawson told the selectmen that he and town counsel drafted a response to Beaty’s first complaint without official board approval, which resulted in a second complaint surrounding said response.
“I was pretty pleased about it,” Dawson said about his response to the first complaint of which he said “that I tried to deal with it in a timely fashion.”
“I thought that was a good response. I thought it made a lot of sense,” he said. “Well, let that be a lesson on how no good deed goes unpunished.”
The board that night authorized Dawson to respond to the second violation.
In conclusion, Rush wrote, “[We] find that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to meet prior to sending its response to an Open Meeting Law complaint. We order the Board’s immediate and future compliance with the law’s requirements, and we caution that similar future violations could be considered evidence of intent to violate the law.”
By Jean Perry