Town Counsel: Charter Committee Violated Open Meeting Laws
SACC will need to "recreate" 12 meetings before changes in charter can be put before voters.
Town Counsel Charles Zaroulis has informed the Board of Selectmen that the Special Act Charter Committee (SACC) did, in fact, violate the state's Open Meeting Laws at some of its meetings.
As a result, the Annual Town Meeting warrant will not contain an article recommending changes to the Town Charter, including the elimination of Town Meeting.
The issue was discussed and dealt with at Thursday's Selectmen's meeting.
In an opinion submitted to board Chairman Todd Johnson, Zaroulis stated that 12 of the SACC's 28 meetings, those held at the home of SACC Chairperson Elizabeth Carey on Langley Lane, were in violation of the Open Meeting Law because the home is not handicapped accessible.
Zaroulis' inquiry stemmed from Johnson receiving complaints from multiple sources, including a letter from the Community Preservation Committee, expressing concerns regarding the meetings taking place at the Carey home, proper public postings of meetings and a lack of communication from the SACC to the selectmen.
State law does not prohibit municipal meetings at private homes but does discourage it. Zaroulis did not find any problem with how the meetings were posted publicly and did not address the communication issue, as it was not a legal matter.
To address the violations, as well as the other concerns raised, Johnson outlined a four-part ruling, which was approved by the board in a 4-0 vote, with David Gay abstaining, due to his status as a member of the Community Preservation Committee.
- The SACC must recreate the 12 meetings that were deemed to be in violation of state law.
- A recording secretary will be appointed to improve the minutes taken at SACC meetings.
- Selectmen Scott Wilson is appointed as a 10th member of the SACC with full voting privileges. He will represent the selectmen and report back to the full board.
- The Selectmen have a "keen interest and strongly encourage" a public hearing process.
Carey said she was satisfied by the board's ruling.
"I'm definitely satisfied," she said. "Now, we can proceed and continue our mission."
The earliest the SACC would be able to present its proposed changes to voters will now be at the October Special Town Meeting. In the meantime, the SACC will hold the 12 meetings it must recreate and plans to hold open forums for public input.
After the ruling, Warren Carey, husband of the SACC chairwoman, thanked the board for allowing the process to continue, calling the issue of considering changes to town government "giant" and stating that it should be ultimately decided by the voters.
"I want to hear arguments in favor of getting rid of Town Meeting and I want to hear arguments opposed," he said. "I have an open mind on the matter."
However, Carey also chastised Selectmen David Gay and Doug Sears for, in Carey's opinion, already deciding that they were against abolishing Town Meeting before letting the process play itself out.
Sears fired back, telling Warren Carey that private meetings should not be held at private houses and then be called "public."
Sears also chastised members of the SACC for allowing the meetings to take place in in a residence that, in Sears' opinion, they should have known was in violation of state law. Specifically, Sears alluded to Elizabeth Carey as a former Town Clerk, Mary-Ann Nichols as the current town clerk and Sandra Barbeau as the assistant to the town manager.
"The people on this committee should have known better," said Sears.
Nichols and Carey declined to comment on the allegations.
"We got our wrist slapped and now we'll move on," said Barbeau.
Afterward, Johnson he was frustrated by the situation, specifically the fact that it took so much time and energy to deal with over the last two weeks, while the town is also attempting to deal with budget challenges.
Carey said that a date has not yet been set for the next SACC meeting.