Attorney General finds Shirley selectmen violated open meeting law

Attorney General finds Shirley selectmen violated open meeting law

By Anne O’Connor

SHIRLEY — Selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law during two sessions during the summer, according to a finding released less than two weeks before a recall election.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office found the board failed to comply with procedural requirements for an executive session and that it discussed matters that should have been part of the open session.

The letter, dated Jan. 18, was in reply to a complaint filed with the Attorney General by Selectman Enrico Cappucci in October.

The two other selectman, Chairman Kendra Dumont and Bob Prescott face a recall election on Monday.

The Attorney General found that the executive sessions on July 25 and Aug. 8 were convened at the request of the police chief, who asked to hire an outside investigator to review two issues. The first, a disclosure to a selectman about an application by a police officer for a license to carry a gun and the release of CORI, Criminal Offender Record Information. The second issue was disclosures of an arrest report and booking room video without proper authorization.

During the sessions, the name of an employee under investigation was used, Cappucci said. In the second session, a letter from town counsel contained other names.

“That was just totally unjust to those people,” Cappucci said. “I thought they crossed the line.”

“My problem is that they weren’t there to defend themselves,” he said.

The selectmen’s office consulted with town counsel prior to the meetings, said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin. The selectmen knew the names from a previous investigation.

Prescott faulted Cappucci for filing the complaint. “He wants to use this before the election to point at Mrs. Dumont and myself,” he said.

Dumont does not believe there was an open meeting law violation. “If there was, it was unintentional,” she said.

“He’s using it as political leverage,” Garvin said. The Attorney General’s letter was posted on Facebook before the rest of the board could respond.

“We just went to the meeting on the advice of town counsel,” said Selectman Bob Prescott. Counsel also said that employee names could be used in executive session under certain circumstances.

Cappucci said he has to be very careful because he represents the town and does not want to put the town in a position where it could be sued down the road. Using the names of the people in the letter could be an issue with the whistleblower law.

Town counsel did say that the town may not be able to investigate a charge because of the whistleblower law, Prescott said.

State law protects whistleblowers by forbidding retaliation against employees who report violations or risks to public health, safety or environment.

In replying to the complaint, the board stated the meeting was not about one individual, it was about dissemination of CORI information.

“Do we investigate or don’t we? That was the crux of the meeting,” Garvin said.

Town counsel provided the wording for the agenda, she said.

The board failed to cite the CORI statute to justify the meetings, the Attorney General found. It also found that the board could have used a different justification for the meeting if it had notified the individual.

The executive sessions went into police procedures and policies and town legal obligations that should have been discussed in an open meeting, the Attorney General also found.

The Attorney General ordered the selectmen to release the minutes concerning police policies and procedures that should have been discussed in open session.

Because the board did not notify the employee about the executive session, it must also release the minutes pertaining to the employee to that employee without redaction within 30 days.

Garvin planned to talk with town counsel on Jan. 23 to learn how the town should proceed.

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