Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Treating Some SouthbridgeTown Records As Trash

Ken O’Brien

Our municipal government overlords have no compunction about punishing the “pigs and barnyard animals” as our town council chair famously referred to some residents. You don’t use the right trash bags or the prescribed form of trash container? In a vampirical parody of Oprah, the message is “Here’s a $250 fine for you, and here’s a $250 fine for you, and for you and for you and….”

But they are apparently far more reticent about disciplining their own when it comes to fulfilling the basic requirements of government. 

At the March 12 meeting of the Southbridge town council, Councilor Laurent McDonald expressed his concern about the sketchiness of meeting minutes provided by a particular recording clerk.

This sparked a written response from the clerk in question, who is also an employee of the Town Clerk’s office, which was included in the town councilors’ packets. That made the letter a matter of public record.

That response was characterized by Councilor McDonald at the April 9 council meeting as “defiant”.

In the letter the Town Clerk’s employee informed the council that she was doing what was required by Roberts’ Rules, and she had no obligation to do more than that.

Perhaps this amateur parliamentarian should read a little more of Robert’s Rules. In particular she might want to pay attention to the following statement: “The only limitations upon the rules that such a body can thus adopt might arise from the rules of a parent body…, or from national, state or local law affecting the particular type of organization.” (Roberts’ Rules, 10th Edition, Pg. 10; emphasis added)

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law (M.G.L. c. 30A, §§ 18-253) says in Section 22:

Section 22. [MINUTES, RECORDS] (a) A public body shall create and maintain accurate minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, setting forth the date, time and place, the members present or absent, a summary of the discussions on each subject, a list of documents and other exhibits used at the meeting, the decisions made and the actions taken at each meeting, including the record of all votes. [Emphasis added]

So, while Roberts’ Rules do not require a summary of discussions, state law – to which Roberts’ Rules clearly states its subservience – does require such material.

When Councilor McDonald raised this matter again at the April 9 meeting, he was quickly shut down and prohibited from any further comment by the Council Chair.

Sources have indicated reluctance on the part of the Town Clerk to engage in the unpleasantness of addressing this matter in her own department. The same sources indicate that the Town Manager did not want to make an issue of this because he didn’t want any more negative publicity for the Clerk’s office and because he had too many more important matters to attend to.

To me it seems that any town employee who talks (or writes) trash should be subject to the same penalty per infraction that is visited upon town residents for mishandling their refuse.


  1. Ken, you forget that the precedent in this town is that state law only applies when it is not in conflict with the charter, the bylaws or the town manager's interpretation of these rules. We don't have a local government. We have a booster club.

  2. aka Jester

    Summary - If the “Clan Chair” becomes anymore abrasive; we (the taxpayers) might be forced to send her to “Finishing School”.

  3. (from Old Thymer-I Miss "Speak Out", Love thsi Blog too-Thank YOU Mr. O )

    One of the other Councilors was required to attend finishing school for a social promotion she once arranged-maybe she is already teaching Katherine-the-NOT-so Great, High -------------- Councilor and Supreme Town Clowselor, Katherine "Let the People Speak" ( As long as they only say "Amen!")has not been as cruel in recent months.
    Nikolla hasn't degraded or humiliated a speaker at Citizen's Forum in months-she saves her distaste and venom for Butch McDonald, who to his credit is patient and retains his composer.


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