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State AG again finds Open Meeting Law violations in Puru

PERU – The state Attorney General has again found the Select Board guilty of violating the Open Meeting Law, the second such ruling in as many months.

This violation occurred on Nov. 25, when the Select Board “violated the Open Meeting Law by improperly discussing matters that were not appropriate for executive session behind closed doors; by failing to follow required procedures for entering into executive session; by failing to include sufficient detail about anticipated discussion topics in its executive session meeting notice,” assistant AG Hanne Rush wrote in a May 5 response to Peru resident Kimberly Wetherell’s complaint.

Wetherell, who filed the earlier complaint as well, called the result “another good ruling,” in an interview this week.

“Some town officials think they’re exempt [from the law] but they’ll learn quickly this isn’t the wild, wild west,” Wetherell said. “The law is there to be followed.”

The Select Board convened an illegitimate executive session in an improper manner – without a stated purpose or vote to do so – at 8:27 p.m. on the date in question, according to Rush’s ruling. The session lasted 30 minutes.

A then-ongoing search to find former Highway Department employee Francis Biagini’s replacement was the topic on hand. The AG said no general executive session purpose exists to discuss personnel issues, but the Select Board could have cited Purpose 1, which town boards commonly employ to discuss employee matters in private.

They did not, and could not anyhow because Biagini never received the requisite 48-hours notice, Rush also points out.

“When you’re dealing with town government and municipal employees, that’s all public,” Wetherell said. “We pay their salaries.”

Biagini departed for a job with the state and his position has since been filled.

The Select Board also fell short in its follow up to Wetherell’s complaint by taking 23 rather than the required 14 business days to respond, a fact which Rush did not fail to notice or mention in his ruling. He identifies the delay as the fourth way in which members of the board violated the Open Meeting Law in this particular instance.

Peru Select Board Chairman Douglas Haskins has refused to discuss the board’s recent Open Meeting Law troubles with The Eagle.

Several Peru residents have corroborated Wetherell’s complaints in correspondence with The Eagle, in which some claimed that Select Board actions in violation of the Open Meeting Law occur with regularity.

The former AG ruling in response to a complaint from Wetherell was issued on April 7. It stated that the Select Board violated the Open Meeting Law by convening a Sept. 9 meeting 35 minutes before the scheduled time.

Wind farm developer Lightship Energy’s proposed project for private land between Haskell and Garnet Hills off Curtin Road is the hot issue drawing more people to the meetings in Peru of late.

Wetherell said she’s forwarding her complaints and the AG rulings along to two attorneys that have been hired by residents of the town in response to the developer’s plans.