Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why The Open Meeting Law Violation Matters

There are those who feel that my open meeting law complaint was a minor matter undeserving of any serious attention.

I profoundly disagree with this view for numerous reasons. The most fundamental reason is that it relates directly to the relentless effort to amend the town charter on terms that are beneficial to particular political interests. I can only imagine the outrage of many of those pursuing this agenda if a similar campaign was mounted, with analogous political chicanery, to alter the U.S. Constitution. 

Beyond this basic philosophical issue, there are a number of specific matters at stake.

The first area is related to process. Under this heading I would focus on four specific matters.

Number 1 is the inherent hypocrisy of the vice-chair on the matter of the Open Meeting Law. For those who can recall, she made a major issue of all town appointees as well as elected officials to take an online test and provide certification of having passed it. This was during the same time that the Charter Review Committee was pursuing its delegated task. Since that time her devotion to the matter has been shown to have been a triumph of style over substance.

Number 2 is the abject failure of the council chair to adhere to proper procedure, whether relating to the open meeting law or, as I’ve pointed out on numerous prior occasions, town council rules or RobertsRules of Order.

Number 3 is the town manager’s never-ending tendency to minimize his own ineptitude by attempting to “spin” such shortcomings as minor matters rather than incompetence. This ranges from attempting to pass this matter off as merely an “administrative matter” to his reference to his relentless pursuit of the landfill road that he inadvertently termed himself “the Khyber Pass.”

Number 4 is the failure of any councilor at the meeting to point out that this action was in fact a violation of the open meeting law. They are elected in part to exercise this kind of oversight rather than leaving it to private citizens.

The second area is related to the content of the legislation in question and has at least two elements.

Number 1 is the ongoing effort by the town manager, going back to the original proceedings of the Charter Review Committee, to increase the number of votes required to remove him from office.

The foundation of his argument is that it takes six votes to remove the council chair but only five to remove the town manager. In his opinion, and that of his acolytes on the council, the threshold for both should be the same.

The argument is fundamentally fallacious. The council chair is elected in two stages; first to the council by the public and second to the chairmanship by the council membership. The chair is designated by the charter as the head of town government.

The town manager, on the other hand, is a hired employee. It is not too far-fetched to say that the argument would be like saying that removal of the head of the postal service should require the same procedure as that for the removal of the President.

Number 2 has to do with the composition of the Board of Health. This has been an ongoing tap dance by administrations since the Board was first illegitimately stacked by Clayton Carlisle.

Citizens attempted to garner a court verdict on this matter, but, as I’ve again written about in the past, this was stymied by the town and its attorneys using our tax dollars to delay any action until the citizens’ financial resources were depleted.

Also, whereas the original vote was to go to an elected BOH, who can forget councilor Regis’ sudden reversal on that matter after receiving “dozens of phone calls.” PLEEZ!

The third area relates to the consequences of voting to further this legislation, and it also has two components.

Number 1 is the addition of ten separate questions to the June election ballot. This is, of course, in addition to the regular election matters of town councilors, school committee members and other town offices. I can guarantee chaos on the matter.

Number 2 is the fact that the vote would take place in June of 2013. The charter mandates the appointment of a new Charter Review Committee just one year later. 

This has reached the point of absurdity. Why consume any more time and effort on doing something that may potentially be undone a year later?

Further, having seen how the work of the prior Charter Review Committee was casually cast aside, who of any substance and integrity would want to serve on such a body?

The fourth and final area has to do with political considerations.

Number 1, the town is injecting itself into the current race for state representative in the sixth Worcester district. Clearly the original oversight of the special legislation was mishandled by the incumbent, or there would be no need to move to this step. Now we are going to request action by a potential lame duck to remedy the original screw up.

Number 2 is the simple matter of the mounting degree to which our town is being viewed with ridicule. The incompetence with which this matter has been handled, the unrelenting stream of open meeting law complaints, the constant onslaught of lawsuits against the town and numerous other matters have already made us a laughingstock in many quarters. Is there really any need to add to the list with this?

For these reasons I believe that my action in filing this complaint was anything but dilatory.

Similarly, I believe that, based upon these considerations, item number 20 on Monday’s council agenda should be voted down.


  1. One council member who pretends to be an expert on everything says that this wasnt a violation. He claims that Clark only agreed to it because it makes him look good.

  2. Another violation that has just been brought to my attention has to do with subcommittees.

    Apparently there have been a number of occasions where a subcommittee lacked a quorum to call a meeting to order.

    When this has happened the council chair or vice-chair has been called to attend in their capacity as an ex-officio member of all subcommittees and thus provide a quorum.

    However, Roberts Rules is quite explicit that, while ex-officio members are allowed to vote, their attendance cannot be counted toward the presence of a quorum for the conduct of business,

    Consequently, any subcommittee meeting that required the ex-officio presence of the chair or vice-chair to achieve a quorum was, in fact, an illegal meeting.


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