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TOWNSEND — A proposed alteration to the Open Meeting Law of Massachusetts would hold individual board and committee members personally responsible for any infractions, and many members of municipal governments across the commonwealth are very concerned about the impact of such a change.

When John Barrett, curently a commissioner for Parks/Cemetery learned of the matter, he alerted town administrator Greg Barnes and asked him to apprise the Board of Selectmen. He forwarded a letter written by James B. Lampke, Esq., Executive Director/Secretary-Treasurer of the City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association, of Hingham, Mass., decrying the bill and requesting the signature of the chairman in support.

“‘Such a personal fine against municipal board and committee members is unprecedented in the commonwealth,'” Selectman Robert Plamondon read. “‘There is also a legitimate question as to whether the town could provide them with legal representation if they were sued in their individual capacities seeking to assess fines against them, or whether they would need to pay their own attorneys to defend them against the fine.'”

“No one will want to get involved in town government,” Vice Chairman Maureen A. Denig said in shock.

A violation of the current Open Meeting Law may result in a $1,000 fine against the town; under the proposed revision, a $500 fine would also be levied against the responsible board or committee member.

“I will say that if an individual board member violated Open Meeting Law, the State Ethics Commission could get involved and issue a fine, but not by statute,” Chairman David Chenelle said in consternation. “I don’t like the implication of black and white.”

Lampke’s letter pointed out that the revised law would even affect uncompensated personnel on town boards.

“It’s clearly too punitive,” Plamondon said. “The present sanctions are adequate.”

“You don’t want to lose your house,” Denig agreed.

Barrett urged the selectmen to authorize Chenelle to sign the letter and send it to Rep. Robert Hargraves and Sen. Robert Antonioni.

“As a municipal counsel, and as a volunteer board member myself, I think the (state) bill is the wrong way to go, and will undoubtedly cause a lot of people to leave volunteer public service or not get involved,” town counsel wrote to Barnes. “I understand the attorney general’s office is working on a bill which would deal with problems in the Open Meeting Law much more practically and fairly.”

Chenelle signed the letter after a unanimous vote by the selectmen.