Let the municipal offices, boards, and committees of the Tri-Town beware: Someone is watching you.
Mattapoisett is the second municipality in the Tri-Town that the Attorney General’s Office has found in violation of the Open Meeting Law within the past two months, just after Marion was found to have violated the law in two of three complaints filed by a man who doesn’t live in either town.
But that doesn’t stop Ronald Beaty of Barnstable from watching to make sure that public officials everywhere are following their legal obligations, almost exactly to a T.
Beaty, an elected Barnstable County Commissioner, told The Wanderer via email that he ran for that office on a platform of open, transparent, and accountable government. He said he’d earned a reputation on Cape Cod as “somewhat of a government watchdog.”
“As a result of my activism on the Cape, it is now rare to find any OML violations, so I have had to branch out a bit,” said Beaty. “The most recent ‘wins’ involved the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen and the State Ethics Commission.”
Beaty filed the Open Meeting Law complaint on October 12, and the AG’s Office received the complaint on November 15. The complaint alleges that the notices for the board’s September 26 and October 10 meetings lacked sufficient detail because they did not contain a date and time of posting by the town clerk, or the specific purposes for executive session.
In a January 30 letter to Town Administrator Michael Gagne, the AG’s Office stated that it found no evidence of violation pertaining to the date and time stamp on the meeting notice, but it did find the Board of Selectmen in violation concerning the insufficient detailed notice for its September 26 meeting.
“We order the Board’s immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law,” states the letter signed by KerryAnne Kilcoyne, assistant attorney general, “and we caution that similar future violations may be considered evidence of intent to violate the law.”
According to the AG’s Office letter to Gagne, citing the Open Meeting Law, the Mattapoisett Selectmen “failed to identify the non-union personnel with which it was negotiating,” in addition to the litigation matter it had posted without specifying which litigation matter it planned to discuss.
The letter further states, “Although not raised in the complaint, we remind the Board that it must also identify the nonunion personnel with which it is negotiating and the litigation matter it plans to discuss, in the verbal statement made before entering into executive session…” Specific details and matters may not be disclosed, however, if it should be determined that it could compromise the executive session purpose.
Will Rochester be next? Just this week, the Rochester Board of Selectmen’s public notice for its February 5 meeting, like the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen’s, lacks similar detail in its executive session posting, listing only a general reason for executive session as “To conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with union personnel.”
Marion’s notice for its February 6 meeting also features an executive session notice with no specified information for its purposes – the real property up for discussion for purchase is not identified, nor is the non-union personnel in its negotiations strategy discussion.
“Along with the press and local citizens, I will continue to periodically monitor public meetings in the Tri-Town area,” Beaty told The Wanderer. “However, it is sincerely hoped that public officials will mainly monitor themselves.”
As for Beaty, he’s made a name for himself on Cape Cod, and Internet search engine results turn up plenty of mentions of his name in the news, including his 1991 conviction of threatening to kill former President George H.W. Bush, for which he was sentenced to serve 16 months in prison.
The Open Meeting Law can be explored by visiting www.mass.gov/the-open-meeting-law.
By Jean Perry