Monday, April 8, 2013

Let The Sunshine In




From: Larry Kelley
To: AG Division of Open Government 

Sent: Mon, Apr 8, 2013 2:22 pm 
Subject: Open Meeting complaint

I was prevented entry to a meeting on April 4 at the UMass Police Station between high ranking school officials, town officials and private landlords to discuss a matter of utmost public concern:  rowdy off campus student behavior by a minority of students who attend the University. 

I was told in an email from a UMass offical that the meeting was closed because it was a "working meeting."  

UMass did issue a press release before the end of the day but, for instance, did not provide the names of the ten landlords who attended the meeting.  A violation of the very first rule in journalism concerning the five W's (WHO, what, when, where and why). 

 Since this issue is an ongoing problem in the town of Amherst and since these meeting will probably happen again, I would like the Attorney General to issue a ruling as to whether they should be open or not.  

Sacrificing transparency for the expediency of public employees is not a healthy trade off. 

Thank you for your attention and time spent upholding the People's right to know. 

Larry Kelley 

#####

To: buffone Cc: jeankim ; jkennedy ; egelaye ; edblag 
Sent: Mon, Apr 8, 2013 7:35 am 
Subject: Public Documents Request 

Could I please get any and all written correspondence -- email, text, snail mail -- between any UMass employee and Amherst town officials (either appointed or elected) between January 1, 2013 up until this morning concerning off-campus student behavior especially but not limited to the recent "Spring Strategy Meeting" held April 4, as well as any correspondence concerning Amherst's Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods upcoming town meeting bylaw. 

Since this request is in the public's interest I would also request a fee waiver.  

Larry Kelley

#####

To: MusanteJ ; selectboard ; ZiomekD  
Sent: Mon, Apr 8, 2013 9:42 am 
Subject: Fwd: Public Documents Request 
Subject: Public Documents Request 

Could I please get any and all written correspondence -- email, text, snail mail -- between Amherst town officials (either appointed or elected) to any UMass employees between January 1, 2013 up until this morning concerning off-campus student behavior especially but not limited to the recent "Spring Strategy Meeting" held April 4, as well as any correspondence concerning Amherst's Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods upcoming town meeting bylaw. 

Since this request is in the public's interest I would also request a fee waiver.  

 Larry Kelley 


 #####

Sent: Mon, Apr 8, 2013 11:19 am 
Subject: Public Documents Request 
Sally Linowsky Campus and Community Coalition 

Could I please get a list of the  ten landlords who attended the April 4 "Spring Strategy Meeting" held at UMPD as well as a list of all the landlords who were invited.  

Thanks, 

Larry Kelley

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Larry, I for one know what your up against. If you go to the Town Hall with your concerns and they are not addressed, guess what, you become the problem. This is how small town government works. At this point you and any concerns you have will never be addressed without going to the AG office.

Good luck, but never give up!

Anonymous said...

Are there "non-working" public meetings?

Dr. Ed said...

My understanding is that they can go into executive session, but they have to do it from a public meeting, with a recorded vote.

In other words, they screwed up by not letting you in and then kicking you out.

Anonymous said...

What is the basis for the meeting being subject to the open meeting law?

Larry Kelley said...

Public employees, on public time, in a public building, discussing a matter of public concern.

Walter Graff said...

Don't give up on this one Larry. What the fact that you were denied entrance shows is not that they didn't want you, but that this issues is a problem for them not for what it is, but for their public relations and they are simply not ready to let anyone in on the next step. Bottom line they don't have that as of yet. As a result, no one wants anyone that might be able to report ongoing discussions to know that they 'go to AA'- the first step in addressing a serious issue.

The problem with the town and the University is they have swept this under the table for years by allowing this cultural mindset to grow and proliferate creating bad press and now that they have set the precedent, they are going to work hard not to reveal any info pertaining it as they work on it.

In actuality their best public relations is to let the public know they are serious about addressing this and want people to know that they are doing just that. They will do that eventually. Of course in their mind they are setting up their ducks and making a road map before they do that so at this point you are not welcome.

Peel away the onion and what it shows me is that they really are at a stage of not knowing themselves what the best course of action is even though they have a plethora of research and free available programs at their fingertips right now that can help them do just that.

Right now everyone involved must be on the same page before they can proceed with a course of action to change the mindset of the student body, change the way renters deal with the problems, change the way the town addresses it, and change the way the University oversees the student population.

Dr. Ed said...

What is the basis for the meeting being subject to the open meeting law?

Ummm --- what is the basis for people being required to stop for red lights? Is it because red is such a pretty color, or could it perhaps because of a presumption established by the General Laws?

From the guide to the public meeting law (all emphasis added):
http://www.mass.gov/ago/docs/government/oml/oml-guide.pdf

With certain exceptions, all meetings of a public body must be open to the public. A
meeting is generally defined as “a deliberation by a public body with respect to any matter within the body’s jurisdiction.”

As explained more fully below, a deliberation is a communication between or among members of a public body.


Oh, they have screwed up in so very many ways here -- they've actually managed to create a public body (the people invited to that meeting) which itself then becomes bound to not only all the public meeting and records requirements, but whose members become special public employees and become bound to all the requirements of the state ethics laws!

Remember that town meeting members are explicitly exempted from the state ethics laws -- but no one else is, and thus the private property management companies who went to this meeting have become subject to all the disclosure and conflict of interest requirements of the ethics laws. Their books are now public.

I am just thinking of all the fun that someone like Vince O'Connor could have pointing out how lucrative the student rental market is, and that without the two eminent domain proposals on the town meeting warrant.

Cinda, if Kamins Reality was represented at that meeting, and I'd be surprised if they weren't, I'd be worried right now. REALLY worried....

UMass assumed (correctly) that no UMass student would assert any rights if the UMPD was involved, and that the off-campus media wouldn't care about the meeting. The mistake they made (Oh, they made many, but the tactical one) was in presuming that Larry would just praise their efforts to silence the students and go on -- that he would never ever take the student side on any issue.

And Larry, you *are* on the side of the UM students this time -- the students gain from a knowledge of what was discussed at that meeting (and documentation thereof) -- the townies may well to and the ultimate irony here is that the inept, incompetent & too-stupid-to-be-corrupt UM & Amherst leaders (Stephanie, this includes you) have screwed up so badly this time that two groups who otherwise despise each other both gain (and they loose) if the law is enforced.

Larry Kelley said...

When it comes to Open Meeting and Public Documents Law, I'm an equal opportunity pain in the ass.

Anonymous said...

Ya know, Ed. Get a life. I asked a serious question in wondering what made the meeting subject to the open meeting law. I don't need your sarcasm. I was trying to understand why some meetings are subject to the law when others are not. Are all meetings held at UMASS subject to the law? Are department meetings subject to the open meeting law? I don't know. I was just trying to be more informed and hopefully, in asking the question and having an answer others would also be more informed.

Grow up, Ed.

Dr. Ed said...

From the same AG guide, the issue of what is a "public body"?

Essentially, it is any multi-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive
or legislative branches of state government, or within any county, district, city, region or town, if
established to serve a public purpose


UMass is "within the executive branch of state government", the town is a "town", and "region" redundantly includes absolutely everyone. And does anyone want to argue that they weren't attempting to "serve a public purpose"?

The law includes any multi member body created to advise or make recommendations to a public body

Hence, not only is that "Town/Gown Whatever" group itself a public body, not only is the Selectboard a public body, etc, etc, etc, but what they did last week was to create a new public body.

By bringing in those landlords to "advise" and "make recommendations" they created a public body and the landlords who attended are members of it and hence "special municipal employees."

Enku, you screwed up badly -- and I seem to remember you telling me once that you had gone to law school...

Oh, and Enku, I just had a really interesting conversation with the nice folk in the AG's Office who are very interested in a few other topics.

Oh, and Stephanie, it really is poor form to request a police escort to a campus meeting. This isn't Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive cars themselves here.

Dr. Ed said...

The legal presumption is that all meetings are public and all records are public unless there is a reason why they aren't.

That is why I was being sarcastic. And yes, if there is a police officer waving you through it, you don't stop for the red light.

Are all meetings held at UMASS subject to the law?

Under the old law, the answer was "no", but the law has been changed and it isn't really clear anymore.

Are department meetings subject to the open meeting law?

Under the old law, academic meetings were not -- but under the new one, you raise an interesting question. A related question involves tenure review and as that involves the "professional competence" of the professor and not "reputation, character, physical condition or mental health", those very well may be public.

Bear in mind two other things -- first the law is now enforced by the AG and not DA which is not only a different person but an office with the ability to look at things in greater depth. And Coakley's Office has already taken UM to task for violations relative to the hiring of the system president a few years back.

I do have a life, which means I can't research this more now, but it well may apply to departmental meetings, at least to the point of requiring a vote to go into executive session at each one.

Anonymous said...

Oh Goody, another round of wisdom from the A.T.S.

Dr. Ed said...

"The problem with the town and the University is they have swept this under the table for years..."

Walter, you are more right than you can possibly imagine, but you are only addressing one minor facet of a much larger problem. Using your AA example, it would be like expressing concern about an individual drinking Martinis at lunch on Tuesdays when the larger problem is that the individual hasn't been sober in over a month.

Look at the firestorm Catherine Sanderson walked into when she started asking quite reasonable questions, questions she backed up with what truly was legitimate research. The fields of Education and Psychology are so close, and overlap so much that one with a background in one can quite easily understand the other -- the problem was that Sanderson actually knew what she was talking about.

The problem is that the upper-middle management at UMass is largely incompetent, and the same is likely true of the town. They survive by destroying anyone who dares criticize them and by imposing absolute secrecy on all information so that no one can figure out just how incompetent they are.

I will never forget when the UMass Republican Club released the information about what the next year's Family Housing rents would be -- this was public information, had been publicly distributed at a Board of Trustee meeting (not in Amherst) a couple weeks earlier, but most of Housing itself didn't know it, and would have been fired had they told any of the tenants if they did. (This is why the UMRC had to release the figures.)

These people are incompetent. They survive by building a wall of secrecy around themselves so that no one can ever see how truly incompetent they are.

Walter, these are people's children, brought up by parents not that different from the people who live in Amherst. They didn't grow up throwing rocks at cops and such, something has made them this way, and UM is terrified of anyone ever realizing this.

No one at UMass has ever really been held accountable for anything for over 40 years -- not since the Ward Commission and the Building Authority scandal, and the entire administration is incompetent.

There is no other word. Incompetent.

So EVERYTHING is swept under the rug, and the problem isn't just this one thing but all the rest as well....

Dr. Ed said...

"A.T.S." -- I have to admit that I haven't been called that to my face before and - in the most morbid sort of way - actually am sorta curious as to what it stands for.

Anonymous said...

This blog is getting really ridiculous, mostly because a few readers always seem to get the idea somehow that they are in partnership with Larry, and then they post ad nauseum as if their job is to do research on the internet and then regurgitate what they read in a skewed way here as a comment for us dummies out here.

Anonymous said...

A.T.S. stands for the Amherst Three Stooges- Wally, Larry, and Ed.

Anonymous said...

Ed, someone called you A.T.S. to your face? What the f- are you talking about?

Tom McBride said...

This is a transparent (and maybe desperate appeal) but please write in Thomas McBride for town meeting, precinct eight. Voting is Tuesday the ninth, from 7 am to 8 pm, for precinct 8 it is at the Munson Memorial Library. Vote early, vote often (I had to say that).

Dr. Ed said...

Well if the dummies obeyed the law....