Saturday, August 6, 2011

Out-Of-Town Council Meeting Erupts

Kenneth M. O’Brien

The Southbridge town council met starting at 9:00 this morning at the Southbridge Savings Bank location on Route 20 in Sturbridge.

The meeting rapidly ran into another controversy, not unlike the numerous others that have developed in the short tenure of the current leadership.

A press release from Councilor Laurent McDonald summarizes the events as they unfolded.

Southbridge, MA – August 6, 2011: At 9:18 a.m. this morning, I walked out of the Council of the Whole meeting at the Sturbridge branch of the Southbridge Savings Bank on Route 20.
"I had initial reservations about a meeting to be held on a weekend in another community to begin with and expressed those views privately to Council Chairwoman Cathy Nikolla. Those concerns were:
1.         The meeting was being held on private property not in a public building.
2.         It was scheduled to occur on a weekend in another town limiting access to Southbridge residents to  only those that can drive.
3.         It was to be held during the hours the bank is open thus limiting parking.
4.         The size of the room limits occupancy load further limiting public access and essentially limiting public participation.
5.         The meeting would at best violate the Southbridge Home Rule Charter (2-5-2) and Town Council Rules (Rules 5 and 8) or at worst, the room size issue would violate the Open Meeting Law.
I arrived at the meeting place at 8:40 a.m. Also pulling into the parking lot were Councilor Marcucci and citizen James Sotille. When we attempted to enter the building the door was locked. We had to be let in by Council Chair Nikolla. When the meeting was called to order by the Chair, the front door of the community room we were meeting in was still locked preventing public access in violation of the Open Meeting Law. Additionally, the appointed clerk of the Council was not present to take the minutes of the meeting as provided for in Rule 3 of the Town Council Rules.
The Chairwoman then began laying down ground rules including stating there would be no public input during the meeting and that discussion would be limited to what she felt was appropriate to the business at hand.
At that point I raised concerns that we would then be in violation of the Southbridge Home Rule Charter paragraph 2-5-2 which states “All meetings of the council shall be public, except as provided by general law provisions respecting closed sessions.  The agenda for such meetings shall be as determined by the chairperson and shall follow the order of business set forth in “Roberts Rules of Order.”  The rules of the town council shall provide that inhabitants and employees of the town shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat, except matters that could be subject to executive session”.
In rebuttal to my point Councilor Denise Clemence in essence stated that while attending the Massachusetts Municipal Association conference, we learned that these types of meetings are common place and a good way to accomplish work for a public body. When I requested the floor to speak to refute this assertion, the Chair refused to recognize me and told me they were proceeding with business that I was free to leave if I didn’t like it. I responded that I was going to leave because in my judgment the meeting violates our Charter and the Open Meeting Law and I did not wish to be part of that.
The type of “retreat” that I recall learning about at the MMA dealt with team building exercises in which no town business or deliberation would occur. I recall the discussion being very focused that if there was public business to be discussed it cannot be done in any other format than a properly posted meeting in accordance with the law.
In my view, the Open Meeting Law is not the only set of rules we have to follow, we also have the Charter and the Town Council Rules. While it truly is my desire to work with my fellow councilors in moving the town in a positive direction, I am becoming increasingly more concerned with the blatant disregard this present Council majority and the Town Manager have for adhering to the rule of law by not following our Charter or our own Council Rules. I am not willing to compromise my respect for the rule of law and commitment to work on behalf of the citizens by going along for the sake of getting along."
I hope that others who may have been present at the meeting will contribute their observations.

After all, I don’t wish to be accused of being one “hiding behind their pathetic blogs and making up lies about things that they don’t take the time to know anything about”, as council Chairman Nickolla stated in this morning’s Worcester Telegram.


  1. Here we have a cabal that was relentless last year in their supposed devotion to compliance with the Open Meeting Law now violating it at every turn.

    As I pointed out earlier, the agenda for a council meeting on August 8 shows no time for the meeting. Not only is this the case for the agenda posted online, it is also the case for the agenda distributed to councilors in their packets.

    And the chairman accuses bloggers of dealing in things we know nothing about?

  2. After thinking about the chairman's remark about bloggers, I guess she has to be talking about you Raciel, right? (LOL)

  3. Just so you know state law has a thirty day statute of limitations on filing a complaint that a meeting violates Open Meeting Law. The complaint needs to be made with the Attorney General's office within thirty days of the meeting or there's nothing they will do.

  4. I stayed for the meeting, even after Mr. McDonald left. I tryed to remain optimistic, hopeing that some good ideas and such would generate, and that maybe there would be something positive. While some good ideas generated, and some of the talk seemed positive at heart. I could not get past the ill legality of the meeting. I do not see the harm in simply having your round table discussion- which is basically what it really was- and then letting the citizens speak. A counciler recently made a comment during a regular legal meeting " People who dont get involved have no right to complain" . If you want people to input and offer SOLUTIONS then the people must BE HEARD

  5. "Lady Democrat" writes,
    There needs to be a RECALL started sooner rather than later.
    I want an open and honest government.
    I want to thank Councilor McDonald for doing what was LEGALLY right. We can't lower our standards any longer for Cathy & Denise.
    This action to close a meeting and lock the door is a violation of our constitutional rights.
    Maybe a phone call to Ron Maddick (ACLU Director)will help.
    Next time something like this is done I will promise you all to get Channel 3, 4, 5,6, 7 news stations here as I have done in the past!
    A great United State Senator once said " I am going to fight like hell" with the morals and princples for which I believe!

  6. I realize that what I'm about to say is not going to make me popular with some, but, nonetheless, I'm going to say what I feel based on what I saw.

    Today, for all of an hour, I stopped by Southbridge Savings Bank because I had an issue I wanted to speak to Cathy Nikkola about.

    I didn't know that people couldn't speak at the time, so I stayed silent, hoping that there would be a break to ask my question.

    That didn't happen.

    However, since I wasn't there from the start, or at the end, I don't feel qualified to speak to the issue of the legality of the meeting, just the content.

    The content, from what I could see and hear was similar in nature to what I experience in my meetings with management: brainstorming, idea sharing, etc.

    In other words, nothing that offended me. In fact, I found some of it insightful.

    Now, to some of my friends and former supporters, that will make me a "traitor", but I've always told it like I see it, and what I saw in an hour didn't bother me in the least.

    Someone else with more knowledge of the law can deal with those issues.

    But there was a lot of what I consider to be consensus building, which is not a bad thing.

    I've been blasted already for trying to encourage people to work with the council and not fight them, because it doesn't get you anywhere.

    Blowing up and speaking out loud and storming out, out of frustration, while I can understand it, is not the way.

    Would I have preferred to have seen this meeting in Southbridge, sure, I think that would have been appropriate, but it wasn't the end of the world.

    I'm really trying hard, and finding a lot of resistance from some I used to associate with on a regular basis, simply because I feel differently about the approach.

    Having said all of that, it is true that I am greatly offended by the Chief of Police and how he, in my humble opinion, works to intimidate and harass people in this town.

    Me, Peter, Anne.

    That's got to stop, and I think that refusing to inform us of our accusers is a violation of the Constitution, and my lawyer will deal with that.

    But that issue has nothin to do with this council.

    My advice to my friends and former supporters: find a way to get your views across in a professional, productive manner.

    Making scenes doesn't help your cause, which is why I'm not involved in any organized group.

    Anyway, that's just my two-cents.

    Thank you,


  7. Concerned residentAugust 6, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    To Dennis:

    From watching the little snippets I've seen and some of the town council meetings i've watched, i think the people on this site are doing that. I don't understand what your point is. Who has made a scene? I saw some video of a counci meeting on cable of one councilor trying to talk and another, I guess the woman running the meeting, being very sarcastic. The ones making the scenes seem to be the councilors.

    I don't think our governing body should meet out of town or on a weekend. Did we have to pay the manager overtime? How come it wasn't on cable access like all the other meetings?

    You say what you saw didn't bother you, but maybe what the rest of the people in town who like to watch the meetings didn't see bothers them.

  8. Maybe the rest of the people in town were bothered by don't want to prevent me from speaking how I feel about it, do you?

    I don't speak for everybody. They need to speak for themselves, but based on the low turnout today, I don't think it's the big issue its being out to be.

    Did you see the snippets of today's meeting? If so, you'll know what I mean by who made a scene. You don't storm out of a meeting arguing with someone. It doesn't make your side any better than those you criticize.

    At least I can say this: I'll put my name behind what I say.

    I'm not talking about a council meeting. I'm talking about today's meeting.

    Can we at least stick to the facts that I laid out, and not go off on tangents?

    That's the problem with the opposition, in my opinion. You need to stick to the facts, and stop throwing everything at them and hoping it sticks.

    What's your alternative?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Amelia, I intentionally didn't mention you by name, but thanks for stepping up to the plate.

    I do get the frustration, but...if Steve had this meeting, the reaction wouldn't be the same.

    Im big enough to say that each councilor said something of interest.

    I commend you for reaching out. Thats not weakness...that's strength.


  11. This meeting had many things wrong wth it. I understand why Amelia and many other people were up set. I am sorry i wasn't able to attend, if the meeting was held in Southbrige I would have been able to go. I wasn"t at the meeting so i can't say much but i trust what Laurent McDonald and Amelia had to say about the meeting. So Dennis has every right to his opion but i have ever right to disagree it doesn't sound like this meeting all sunshine and happy smiles, It was not even run in proper order of the rules, let alone lawfully... from what i have just read. But there was nothing to get upset about?...oh of course not,

  12. I also wanted to say thank you Laurent Mcdonald, for doing right by Southbridge

  13. Perhaps what I am about to say was immature, but when Amelia walked out in disgust, speaking three sentences expressing her feelings, speaking in a normal tone of voice, I was slightly envious of her feeling comfortable enough to make her point. I was also feeling disenfranchised. She spoke for herself, but part of what she said was in my heart as well. If others applauded what she said, I would have joined in. Was it "polite"? No, which is why Amelia is offering to apologize, but then again, she did not interrupt a solemn religious serve. Pardon using worn out old phrases, but she DID speak truth to power, and she did raise her hand log enough to tire almost any arm.

    Near the end of the meeting, a councilor (Councilor Denise Clemence) suggested that the audience be invited to speak if no other Councilor objected, and they did give the four of us that remained an opportunity to offer our input. Some of us spoke twice. My belief is that we were told at the meeting opening that we would be afforded a chance to speak at the end of the meeting,some people like Dennis and Amelia may have remained and offered interesting and potentially valuable input.

    Something the Headmaster of Marianhill once told me (during confession) was that everything that is legal is necessarily ethical, and sometimes the ethical choice is not always legal. The introduction of chloramines might be legal, but the way it is being conducted is not ethical. They didn't even provide a Spanish language guide, and the guide itself was vague about the health threat chloramines will bring into the lives of hundreds, maybe over a thousand, local residents. the town has WELL over a year to make this conversion, and I respectfully beg the town manager to slow down and allow people to adjust to this major change. for example, I don't even want to drink water that has been filtered of most of the chloramines- I will need to buy a well, and that is going to take me awhile to arrange that. Other people with serious health problems may want to move. Mr Clark once again repeated the apparent expert advice offered by Dana Farber, advice that I do not believe was ever uttered.

    It deeply concerns me that our board of health is under serious fire at the same time that chemists instead of Doctors have been nominated to sit upon a board that is charged with protecting our health.

    If we can afford to borrow $6 Million to build a road to a landfill for a vendor/ operator, we can afford to acquire the more expensive alternatives to chloramine, and the EPA told me that the town can apply for a waiver and proceed with caution. People need to know that THE TOWN IS NOT FOLLOWING THE PRECAUTIONARY Chloramine introductory RECOMMENDATIONS SUGGESTED BY THE EPA !!!

  14. (p.s.)
    It gave me a good feeling today to witness Councilor Butch McDonald attempt to put the proverbial ship of local state on the proper course.
    It isn't easy, especially when seriously outnumbered, to stand up for what is right when the Councilors that you are addressing do not agree with you. Courage is not tooo strong a word to describe Butch's actions. Although I might enjoy the music Butch and others will share with us on the Common tomorrow night, I doubt I will be more impressed than I was this morning.

  15. Did someone get this meeting on video? Ken posted this article while the meeting was going on. If there is a video of this meeting I bet dollars to donuts if you go back and look at the video you'll see either Clemence or someone else looking at their cell phone either looking at this blog or being given a heads up that this was posted.

    That is probably why they finally let people speak.

  16. Butterfly in the bushAugust 6, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    During the break.

  17. In response to what has been said let me first say, that I do also applaud Amelia and takeing initiative in making amends. I wish I had stayed throughout the entire meeting because I did not know that citizens would be allowed to talk. I will say that there were deffinatly some "insightful" discussions. If you crack it down to what it is, the intent was good, but the way it was done was improper.

  18. Absolutely, anybody and everybody has a right to disagree with me. Just because I stated how I felt doesn't mean I'm right...or wrong.

    It's just my opinion.

    As I stated before, I wasn't talking about anything but the content, since that's all I saw and heard. I wasn't their for the beginning or the end, since I had an 11 AM appointment.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    As I get older, I guess I prefer decorum when possible. But that's just me. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

    I'm limiting myself to fighting, in a different way, for those things important to me.

    I've been there when no one else was, and was abandoned when things got hot for me, and people stayed away for a long period of time.

    So, as a result, I am selective in choosing my battles, and for me, today wasn't one of them.

    If that disappoints people, I'm sorry, but I'm true to myself.

    When I went to Dudley, two people showed up. When my friend Bob Cirba ran, and was the only one with the courage to stand up on behalf of those against the landfill, he was left high and dry--not even the courtesy of a phone call.

    So have I seen how "friends" can abandon you? Yes.

    Am i a little bitter? Yes.

    Will I ever blog again on SOS? No.

    Will I stand up for myself and what's right? He'll, yes.

    But it's all in the approach, and I'm man enough to admit my approach just didn't work.

    If that means in some peoples eyes that I've become a traitor, as some have told me, so be it.

    When you stand alone, you act on your own behalf.

    Hopefully, most of you will understand that, and if you don't, that's ok too.

    I'm much calmer and happier working on my own behalf.


  19. Wm.Wells, Mt.V., CAAugust 6, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    It would surprise me if the city council doesn't stop this. The EPA is working toward phasing out chloramines/ ammonia injection by 2017-even South Afrika is avoiding it in their new extensive water delivery projects. Carcinogen = Bad !

    If true due diligence is conducted, I suspect S'bridge will be getting neighborhood water chlorine stations that also make use of Ozone and UV.

    Good Luck S'bridge is Good People

  20. There wasn't a battle today-despite the meeting being beyond the rule of law, it turned out to be productive in some ways. Mistakes were made, but perhaps lessons were learned. I sincerely doubt that pleasant (albeit out of reach to many due to transportation) location will be used again by the Council. The bank was only trying to be a friend and good neighbor, and they should not be criticized. They do not have a Muni Attorney on their staff reviewing room requests, nor should they need one.

    If they had a quarterly meeting at the Library in which public participation is encouraged, or in town chambers around a collection of tables like the meeting Ron Chernisky moderated before the landfill vote, it would benefit the community, defuse political tension, and renew the spirit of the traditional town meetings.

    ~United We stand, Divided We are Phuqued

  21. Just going back and really reading all the comments now; JP, did Mr. Clark *really* mention Dana Farber again?

    Because I called the media office at Dana Farber AND spoke to the resident in town he was referring to when he rebutted my Chloramine-related comments at the last Town Council meeting.

    Dana Farber does not endorse Chloramine in the water supply, and Mr. Chenier seemed really annoyed to hear that Mr. Clark was lying about what his doctors at Dana Farber told him.

    I'm sorry, but you just CAN'T tell fish stories in a small pond, where everybody knows all the fish. Small town life just doesn't work that way.

  22. There is video confirmation of all that was said at the meeting, of course Mr. Clark mentioned DF again. Perhaps Mr. Clark should find a respected local Doctor to state that Chloramines will not harm people with health problems-please note I mean an M.D.

  23. I started to post here, but it just kept growing. So, if you don't mind, here's my thought:

  24. I heard a rumor that the Chairlady wants to sell a building to Ron Chernisky's downtown partnership which would own a third, the town owns a third, and the businesses that are there own a third.

    Can anyone confirm that this was suggested?

    Why wouldn't the town just convert the old water company building into an incubator, move the economic development office out of the town hall cellar to the same building, and allow small businesses use space there until they grow large enough to expand elsewhere IN SOUTHBRIDGE.

    The Downtown Partnership has been a total failure, and the businesses on Main Street (or anywhere for the most part) are not even active in the DP. The Downtown partnership has been on life support almost from the start, and has demonstrated zero leadership or service to the businesses of this community. If this scheme to include the DP is true, it is time to return to the old town meetings to prevent favors from the few to the few.

    Allowing people to turn the old water company into an incubator is a good idea, but involving the Downtown Partnership would be like putting Doctor Kevorkian on a hospital staff.

  25. The video will be out soon enough, but I wanted to clarify a few things for now.

    No specific building was mentioned. It was conceptual, rather than specific. The example of dividing ownership three ways, including the downtown partnership, was likely also conceptual. This was a brain storm of sorts, that worthwhile concept is not on an Agenda.. I didn't like hearing that someone wants our recycling program "in stone" any more than I would have liked hearing a hundred years ago that we were putting a contract in stone for horsedrawn firetrucks over the automobile powered variety

    I like the idea of a business incubator. There are numerous town owned buildings that could be considered, like the old Notre Dame School, the Wells Junior High School Building-the water company needs a lot of work, but it can be fixed. And rebuilding the hangars at the airport to attract aviation business is also worth considering.

  26. Where was the media?

  27. Probably to busy wit the pan mass

  28. I am happy to see that Butch is standing up to show what is legal and what isn't. It's too bad that it's always an uphill battle. Anyway, when he brings documentation to the meeting to be submitted as part of the record, if nothing else, it covers him in case anything is ever brought to court. It shows that he did his due diligence in notifying the council or subcommittee meeting staff that what they're doing is in violation/out of compliance.

  29. Did the doors remain locked throughout the entire meeting? If so, wouldn't that have been considered a fire hazard?

  30. Will the library remain open if Town Council meeting on 8/8 goes beyond 8:00pm?

  31. Locked doors are not a violation due to a potential fire hazard, they are a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

    That said, they were locked only to people coming from the outdoors, so it was not a fire hazard. If someone came to that door, they would have been allowed in within 30 seconds.

    As Mr. o'Brien has noted, tonight's meeting was not properly posted. If the town had to have hearings over all the open meeting law and information request violations violations, they's likely have to increase their staff in order to process all the complaints.



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