Showing posts with label Open Meeting Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Open Meeting Law. Show all posts

Thursday, October 29, 2015

There They Go Again

Katherine Appy (4th from rt), Vira Douangmany Cage (2nd from left)

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee has been cited yet again by the Attorney General's office for violating the Open Meeting Law.

Or maybe I should say just Amherst School Committee Chair Katherine Appy was cited since the AG used the term "individual violation".

Interestingly the violation is a result of Ms. Appy thinking that Regional School Committee Chair Trevor Baptiste overstepped his bounds when he announced to the committee he was going into "mediation" with the NAACP over a "breach of contract" from a 1993 consent agreement.

Regional School Committee attorney Regina Tate thought no such breach occurred. 

That 20+ year old divisive issue related to discipline meted out to non white students at a higher rate than white students.  An old issue that apparently never seemed to go away.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Top Cop Chastises OML Violation

Trevor Baptise, then Vice Chair reads opening statement at 7/14 RSC meeting

Once again the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee has been found guilty of an Open Meeting Law violation by the Attorney General, this time for the renegade 7/14 meeting brashly called by then Vice Chair Trevor Baptiste and attended by 5-of-9 members, which is a legitimate quorum.

The AG found, however, the meeting had not been properly posted in Amherst.  Although the AG does admit that for a brief time it was legally posted, but not for a long enough period.

The meeting with only one item on the agenda was called by Trevor Baptiste (then Vice Chair, now Chair) to countermand a memo sent out by Chairs of School Committees who make up the Region decrying a statement made by Amilcar Shabazz at a public meeting talking about a covered up in-school racial incident where black youth beat up a white student.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shining A Light

Amherst Regional School Committee "retreat" 8/14/14

So yes, I probably should have been a jerk and required the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee to hold a special meeting just for me -- after all, fulfilling your duties to the Open Meeting Law is important no matter how trivial the detail.

Perhaps why a legal friend of mine describes me as a "strict constructionist" (well, at least most of the time).  It would also have drawn more attention to the issue so that maybe even my friends in the diffident mainstream media would cover it.

The Regional School Committee went into Executive Session at their 8/26 meeting to rubber stamp generous raises for School Superintendent Maria Geryk and her new Assistant Superintendent Mike Morris.

It will be interesting to see the "discussion" minutes.  I honestly wonder if any of them considered the not overly melodious message these generous raises send to the rank and file, who grudgingly get sometimes less than the rate of inflation.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Let the Attorney General decide


Dear Ms. Coakley:

I wish to file a follow up complaint with your office over the manner in which the Amherst Regional School Committee entered Executive Session at their 11/22/11 joint meeting with the Amherst School Committee, specifically, failing to get a "second" to the motion and the motion--at the time it was made--lacked any reason for entering Executive Session and failed to cite the specific chapter and verse of the Open Meeting Law.

In a response to my complaint (that used the form provided by your office) and copied in writing to the Amherst Town Clerk, the Chair of the Regional School Committee stated in writing:

Hi Larry,

I stated at the beginning of the meeting that we would be going into executive session for the purpose of contract negotiations. It also says so on top of the agenda:

It is not required to state it in the motion; it is only required to state it at some point during the pubic meeting before the exec session.

Have a great turkey day.


From: Rick Hood Sent: Wed, Nov 23, 2011 7:44 pm To: BurgessS (Amherst town clerk)

I find that response to be woefully inadequate. Yes, now that I have watched a rebroadcast of the three hour meeting (that was aired live), Mr. Hood did state casually at the very beginning of the meeting that they would be entering Executive Session to discuss "collective bargaining," but over the course of three hours members of the general public who tuned in a few minutes late would not have heard it.

While I have no problem with the reasons for the Regional School Committee to go into Executive Session, I strongly believe that it should never be taken lightly and the discipline shown by using proper procedures exhibits the due diligence expected of our public officials.

Perhaps this incident will provide a perfect "teachable moment."

Larry Kelley

11/23/11 4:54 PM

According to the somewhat newly revised Open Meeting Law I am supposed to file my complaint with you and the town clerk over the incident last night where the Regional School Committee went into executive session without clearly stating the reason for doing so and without a proper second to the motion.

Please excuse the somewhat weird formatting as I downloaded the PDF complaint form from the AG website.

Larry Kelley

Organization or Media Affiliation (if any):

Are you filing the complaint in your capacity as an individual, representative of an organization, or media? Media

(For statistical purposes only) Individual Organization Media x

Public Body that is the subject of this complaint: Amherst Regional School Committee

City/Town Amherst County Hampshire Regional/District State Mass

Name of Public Body (including city/ town, county or region, if applicable):Amherst Regional School Committee, 170 Chestnut Street, Amherst, Ma

Specific person(s), if any, you allege committed the violation: Rick Hood, Chair of the Regional Committee and Irv Rhodes Chair Amherst School Committee
Date of alleged violation:11/22/11

Description of alleged violation: Irv Rhodes made a motion to go into Executive Session "never to return" but with no explanation/reason for the action, and Mr Hood allowed it without having a proper second from another member.

Describe the alleged violation that this complaint is about. If you believe the alleged violation was intentional, please say so and include the reasons supporting your belief. No, not intentional--just careless.

What action do you want the public body to take in response to your complaint? Apologize, promise it will never happen again. After school detention.

Review, sign, and submit your complaint
Read this important notice and sign your complaint.
Under most circumstances your complaint will be considered a public record and be available to any member of the public upon request.
I understand that when I submit this complaint the Attorney General's Office cannot give me legal advice and cannot act as my personal lawyer.

I certify that the information contained on this form is true to the best of my knowledge.

Signed: ____Larry Kelley_______________________________________ Date:___________________________
First Name:Larry Last Name:Kelley Address:596 South Pleasant City:Amherst
Phone Number:256-0491
State:Mass Zip Code:01002

Mr. Hood

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not so instant replay

So when we cut to the video replay of the November 22 (Amherst Media incorrectly stamped the date) Amherst Regional School Committee meeting, clearly Kristen Luschen did not "second" the motion to go into executive session.

When specifically asked by Chair Rick Hood if she was seconding the motion she responds "No, I was asking about..." and then they go off on a brief tangent never to return to the proper parliamentary procedure for using an executive session--something that should never be taken lightly.
The Amherst Select Board, only 24 hours earlier, demonstrated the proper way to go into executive session. Note Alisa Brewer say under her breath, "All those lovely details." Indeed.

What say you now Mr. Hood?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Can you hear me now?

Trustee Carol Gray peeks in to a Library Trustees meeting last summer from Egypt courtesy of skype on Mary Streeter's mac laptop.

Amherst Select Board Open Meeting Law specialist Alisa Brewer reported this evening--right before they retreated into Executive Session--that Attorney General Martha Coakley has decided in favor of "remote participation" for boards and committees in Massachusetts, meaning you no longer have to be physically present to deliberate or vote on matters before your committee (although you do not count towards a quorum).

Excuses--I mean, permitted reasons--that allow for such a thing include "personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service, or geographic distance." Of course it's the last one that will be used most often--especially in a town like Amherst where so many people are affiliated with UMass where the workplace is in full session only 7 months out of the year.

The Select Board, acting as chief executive officers have to vote in favor of adopting the regulation overall, before any of the 50 some odd boards, committees, sub committees and task forces can put it to use. Since the SB also appoints a fair amount of the citizenry to all these volunteer positions they may find remote participation to be an effective tool for recruitment.

Besides, anything that gets people to participate in government is a good thing. Even better when government itself starts to embrace the 21st century.

Attorney General's press release on remote participation

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in

Former Town Manager Larry Shaffer, standing center (way back in his angelic days)

From: White, Donald (SEC)
Sent: Mon, Feb 14, 2011 10:30 am
Subject: Public Records Appeal - SPR11/009

Mr. Kelley,

I wanted to provide you with a brief update on the status of the public records appeal that you submitted to this office. I have been in communication with the counsel for the Town of Amherst to discuss the information redacted from the 8/30/10 Amherst Select Board Executive Session Meeting Minutes. At this time, town counsel has withheld that information and asserted Exemption (c) – The Privacy Exemption. Although the town has asserted this exemption, I am awaiting further information that will support the use of this exemption. I expect to speak further with town counsel next week, as they are out of the office this week.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any further questions, but I at least wanted to provide you with the information that I had on the appeal to date. Thank you.

Donald White
Staff Attorney

Dear Mr White,

Thank you for the brief update. Nice when a government agency in charge of Open Meetings can be so open themselves. I hope when you make your final decision I can also receive the results via electronic mail.

As I'm sure you know, 'Exemption C The Privacy Exemption' is the #1 reason cited by municipal officials for turning down Public Documents requests. But public officials have a lesser expectation of privacy than the taxpayers who fund their salaries.

And the state allows the exception to be trumped when "there is a paramount public interest in disclosure."
Indeed I strongly believe the sudden departure of Town Manager Larry Shaffer, taking with him four months of salary, rises to level of "paramount public interest"; and since he very soon thereafter reentered the job market in Michigan, I'm sure it was not a medical condition that fueled his hasty flight.

The redacted lone sentence I seek represents one half of the 120 minute Executive Session, as Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe covered the entire meeting with only two sentences. That too is questionable record keeping.

Maintaining public trust should be your paramount concern. When elected local officials hatch backroom deals in a private manner financed with public taxpayer money, it diminishes that sacred trust.

Again, thank you for considering this important matter.

Larry Kelley

Correction: The Executive Session was one hour-and-twenty-minutes (80 minutes) not two hours (120 minutes). Still, pretty hard to capture in only two sentences

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

They've got a secret

The Select Board gave Larry Shaffer (on left) the thumbs up for his mysteriously sudden retirement
UPDATE: 4/17/11

How it all, finally, turns out
And continues...

UPDATED: Friday 9: 30 AM

The interesting thing is in the official minutes they did give me only one sentence is redacted. Hmm...

However, the entire one-hour-and-twenty minute executive session "discussion" was covered by Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe (demonstrating her PR flak background) in only two sentences. So the other way to look at it is they redacted half the damn report!

The other telling thing about the Town Attorney blowing me off is that he cites "Wakefield Teachers Association vs School Committee of Wakefield"; and that had to do with a middle school male teacher being disciplined for making inappropriate written comments to a couple of his young female students and being "disciplined" (No, strangely enough he was not fired only docked three weeks pay).

A judge ruled that since the documents in question had to due with the "performance" of a public employee it was exempt from Public Documents Law request. So I guess it boils down to who initiated the break between Shaffer and the town. Did he do it of his own volition because he was getting old and tired and simply wanted to retire or did the Select Board get wind of some inappropriate activity and implement disciplinary action?

Supervisor of Records
Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth
McCormack Building, Room 1719
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Dear Mr. Cote,

I wish to appeal the recent decision of the Town Of Amherst denying me the vast majority of minutes from the 8/30/10 Select Board Executive Session to discuss the sudden retirement of then Town Manager Larry Shaffer, the highest ranking appointed public official in town with an annual salary of $127,528.

The Executive Session lasted over an hour and resulted in the Town Manager being released from his employment contract two years early, AND the payment of four months bonus pay. Since all the monies are tax dollars, The People who financed this arrangement have a right to know the details.

And since Mr. Shaffer almost immediately applied for Town Manager/City Manager positions in the state of Wisconsin, it's obvious he did not abruptly retire from Amherst due to a medical condition.

As always, thank you for service championing the peoples right to know by keeping government records open and transparent.

Larry Kelley
596 South Pleasant St.
Amherst, Ma 01002

So much for "open government" bragged about on the town website

Thought I was doing pretty good up to this point, but I just knew a "However" was coming...

Page 2 legal response via google docs

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Open Meeting violations continue...

The District Attorny once again rebuked chatty Amherst public officials for using email to deliberate in violation of Open Meeting Law. The email in question from School Committee member Rick Hood opens with "I know this email is bordering or across the line on Open Meeting Law, but I will also say this tonight..." No wonder the Gazette figured it out and passed it along to the DA.

I have a better one, however, but I'm not going to bother the DA--or these days--the Attorney General, since they don't seem to do much. It concerns the same issue which brought Mr. Hood over the line: the Union 26 affair, where Amherst School Committee members are considering leaving the 100+ year old alliance with Pelham because the balance of power is tipped exceedingly in Pelham's favor.

From: Maria Geryk
To: Tracy Farnham, Kathy Weilerstein, Nora Maroulis (Pelham School Committee)
Date: 4/9/2010 11:13 AM


Of course the School Superintendent, who obviously benefits from the Union 26 status quo, was responding to the ENTIRE Pelham School committee about an email from Kathy Weilerstein to Nora and Tracy (there's another violation) suggesting wording of a possible PR response should a reporter call concerning the Amherst School Committee meeting to discuss leaving Union 26.

Now I'm sure if a blogger/reporter called to ask about this they would try to use the old "housekeeping" exemption, whereby a quorum or the entire committee can discuss among themselves "procedural" items.

But since the Pelham School Committee did not have a meeting scheduled and they were simply chatting about a possible Public Relations spin response for the media, it clearly crosses the line.

In fact, Kathy Weilerstein writes to Nora and Tracy (4/9/2020 10:20 AM)
"This looks great, I just have a few small comments. I have put my suggestions in ( ). Are we posting this or sending it somewhere?"

Chair Tracy Farnham responds: "Thank you so much! Wonderfully done! I will keep this on hand in case I receive any questions."

The resolution/statement they finally arrived at after trouncing the Open Meeting Law:

"Unfortunately, we the Pelham Elementary School Committee were not formally notified about the Amherst School Committee's decision to review it's participation in the Union 26, the governance structure that articulates the partnership between Pelham and Amherst elementary schools which has functioned successfully for years. Nor are we fully aware of what prompted the decision to review the partnership at this time. Naturally , it would be our hope that the spirit of fair and balanced partnership with which the Union was created, rather than the politics of the day, would inform any discussion of the Union and its continued success."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Open Government

So let's hear it for the state, finally, cracking down on those who would use their government positions--either paid or unpaid--for personal gain: The new Conflict of Interest regulations require online training for all municipal employees and provides real punishment for those found in violation.

• Criminal penalties for bribery have been increased: up to a $100,000 fine, or imprisonment in state prison for up to 10 years or in jail or a house of correction for up to 2½ years, or both.

• Civil penalties for bribery increase from $2,000 to $25,000. Civil penalties for all other ethics violations increase from $2,000 per violation to $10,000 per violation.

The Open Meeting Law will now be enforced by the Attorney General rather than local District Attorney and cities and towns will now have to publish on the web campaign contribution forms for any local office.

Unfortunately the state did not enact fines on individuals found guilty of violating of the Open Meeting Law--something watchdogs have long requested. And private citizens who challenge the actions of a governmental body and wins still cannot collect costs and attorneys' fees for bringing those actions.

But hey, half a loaf is better than none.