April 21, 2014

Peru Selectmen warned after violating Open Meeting Law

By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff | Posted: 04/21/2014 | www.berkshireeagle.com

PERU – The Board of Selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law by convening a meeting 35 minutes before the scheduled time, the state Attorney General’s Division of Open Government has ruled.

The ruling comes almost eight months after residents Joseph Kaminski and Kimberley Wetherell filed complaints about the meeting in question, which took place on Sept. 9, and several other meetings. The Attorney General said the board acted correctly in the other meetings, on Aug. 19 and 26, called to its attention.

Wetherell said she hopes the ruling on the Sept. 9 meeting serves to curb such practices in the future. Wetherell has been monitoring the board’s compliance with the Open Meeting Law since July 2013.

“If I wrote an Open Meeting Law complaint for every time I feel they’ve violated it, the AG would be sick of me by now,” Wetherell said. “I’m appalled at how the public has been disrepected.”

In past meetings, board members spoke in low tones or whispers, exited the room before a meeting was adjourned and without leaving a quorum at the table and refused public input, according to Wetherell. Several Peru residents have corroborated Wetherell’s allegations in correspondence with The Eagle.

Peru Select Board Chairman Douglas Haskins declined to comment on the ruling or potential changes that may result.

“All them Open Meeting Law complaints with the AG are done and over with,” Haskins said. “I’m not going to discuss it.”

The Sept. 9 meeting began at 6:25 but was scheduled for 7 p.m. In correspondence with the Selectmen, the Attorney General’s Office was told of an “inadvertant error by the town clerk,” which caused this to occur.

“We order immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law, and caution that future similar conduct may be considered evidence of intent to violate the law,” the ruling states.

Wetherell and Kaminski’s complaints led the board to change its meeting space from a small room adjacent to the town clerk’s office into the Town Hall gymnasium.

The increased number of people attending the board’s meetings also contributed to the meeting space change. Wind farm developer Lightship Energy’s proposed project for private land between Haskell and Garnet Hills off Curtin Road is the hot issue drawing people to the meetings.

Even drastic violations of the Open Meeting Law bring small penalties. A $1,000 fine constitutes the harshest penalty, and even the Attorney General’s Office levied that penalty only three times in 221 violations since 2010, analysis shows. Many open governance advocates have criticized Massachusetts for having such a weak Open Meeting Law.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2014/04/21/peru-selectmen-warned-after-violating-open-meeting-law/