LYNN – The Massachusetts Attorney General is reviewing Water and Sewer Commissioner David Ellis’ claim that his fellow commissioners violated state law when they decided to meet last December and alter a pay hike that Ellis favored.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic confirmed the review in a letter sent to Ellis on March 20.
“We will notify you of our determination following our office’s review,” wrote Sclarsic.
The state Open Meeting Law ensures the public has proper notification and access to meetings held by public bodies and includes exceptions from the law allowing public officials to meet in closed session.
The AG’s investigators have a range of options for addressing the complaint, including informal action or requiring commissioners to correct a violation and attend Open Meeting Law training sessions.
Ellis’ complaint states that fellow commissioners violated the law during a meeting last Dec. 10 by scheduling a Dec. 17 special meeting.
“The Commissioners did not individually contact Commission Chairman (William) Trahant to request he set this on the next Commission meeting agenda,” Ellis wrote.
Ellis, Trahant and commission member Frank Zipper voted on Dec. 10 to approve 2 percent raises payable in 2013 and 2014 for three Water and Sewer executives. Zipper changed his mind following the vote and commissioners Wayne Lozzi and Walter Proodian agreed with him to call the Dec. 17 meeting.
Lozzi, Proodian and Zipper voted at that meeting to rescind the Dec. 10 pay hike and voted in favor of a new motion approving the pay hike with the effective dates of the hikes staggered to match employment contracts held by the commission executives.
Lozzi this week said commissioners scheduled the Dec. 17 meeting to discuss the pay hike before it took effect on Jan. 1. Ellis also claims Robert’s Rules of Order, the meeting guidelines for the commission, dictates that matters including personnel contracts cannot be reconsidered.
He wants the AG, following the complaint review, to uphold a Feb. 27 letter from Trahant to fellow commissioners declaring the Dec. 17 meeting “illegal” because of the way it was called.
Ellis drafted the complaint to the AG in January, and Water and Sewer Director Daniel O’Neill responded to Ellis’ claims in a Jan. 28 letter, concluding, “there is no credible evidence of any willful violation” of the Open Meeting law.
Even with Ellis’ complaint on file with the AG, the Dec. 17 meeting is still a source of disagreement for the commissioners. Lozzi met resistance from Ellis and Trahant when he called Monday for a commission vote to approve minutes of the Dec. 17 meeting.
Trahant said commissioners should wait to approve the minutes until after the AG reviews Ellis’ complaint. Lozzi disagreed.
“There’s no reason not to approve the minutes. This is getting very annoying,” Lozzi responded.
“It’s annoying that you want to push something through that’s illegal,” Trahant responded before moving Monday’s commission discussion to other Water and Sewer business, including a potential $16 million waste incinerator upgrade mandated by changes in laws governing mercury emissions.
Commission executives also reported that Water and Sewer’s financially troubled wind turbine project is on course for a July completion date.
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