Ruling: No Open Meeting Law violation, but room for improvement in Shirley

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Anne O’Connor

aoconnor@nashobavalleyvoice.com

SHIRLEY — The Board of Selectmen did not violate the Open Meeting Law when it passed three motions during an agenda topic listed as a discussion, the state Attorney General’s office determined.

The complaint filed by Bryan Dumont alleges the meeting notice for the Feb. 27 selectmen’s meeting lacked sufficient detail.

The letter from Assistant Attorney General Kevin W. Manganaro was sent to Lauren F. Goldberg at KP Law, the town counsel. It was dated May 1.

During a new business item listed as “Safety and Work Report (Heartle), Discussion” on Feb. 27, the board took three votes. They suspended the police chief with pay, named someone to temporarily assume the role and approved more investigation on allegations raised in a report prepared by investigator Jean Haertl of Safety and Respect at Work, LLC.

“The notice satisfied the Board’s minimum obligations under the Open Meeting Law,” the letter said. The discussion and votes were within the topic as listed, but the board should include additional information on future meeting notices to better inform the public about topics that will be discussed.

The notice topic was deficient in certain respects, the letter said. It failed to identify the police chief and did not specify any anticipated actions. The investigator’s name was misspelled and the company name was misstated.

However, the report had received “significant media coverage” and pointed to a “Lowell Sun” story published on Dec. 12, 2016. “A reasonable member of the public could have read the notice and understood the context of the report,” the letter said.

In a footnote, the letter said that other allegations made in the complaint do not fall under the Open Meeting Law and declined to review them.

“I thought we were in the right,” said Rico Cappucci, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “We’re trying to do everything we can to stay within the guidelines.”

The town brought in a representative from KP Law, the town counsel, to go over the Open Meeting Law, he said.

Dumont replied to a request for comment by email.

“The Decision of the OML reviewer clearly indicates that the Selectmen could/should have been more clear and that additional information should have been submitted. It’s obvious to anyone watching the 27 February 2017 meeting that the chairman was intentionally misleading and had an agenda going into the meeting, supported by the fact he had motions prepared in advance and that he and other board members KNEW what their intentions were prior to the meeting. This boards claims of open government and transparency only applies when it suits their agenda. Further exhibited by their refusal to release executive minutes (so voted on their 8 May 2017 meeting) clearly indicating their attempt to cover up the fact that the chief and others were properly disciplined as a result of the Haertl report. Thereby showing their claim “that no action was taken” as a rationale for a 2nd investigation into the Haertl report and the placing of the Chief on administrative leave to be a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts as they exist. Their agenda is obvious, in an attempt to eliminate the Chief without cause to allow for a cessation of action in a disgraced former officer and a convicted felon. A sad day for this town indeed, but this is not finished.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.