All members of the Peru Select Board must review the state’s Open Meeting Law Guide after the Attorney General found a violation occurred in April, which marks the fourth against the board this year.
A Select Board discussion of two town employees’ outstanding contracts during an April 14 meeting, which was not included in the posted agenda, violated the law, Assistant Attorney General Kevin W. Manganaro found.
“Members of the public who may have been interested in the discussion of these contracts did not have proper notice that they would be discussed,” Manganaro wrote in his determination. “Here, the discussion of the two contracts was a long-standing issue, rather than an emergency that arose on the day of the meeting. The matter did not need to be resolved immediately. The board was aware that discussion of the contracts should be included in the notice; indeed, the topic had been listed on at least four prior notices.”
However, Manganaro notes that “we do not find that the violation here was intentional.”
One of the two complainants, Kimberly Wetherell, disagrees.
She said the board intentionally rushed to sign two three-year contracts that night, an assistant assessor’s and the treasurer/tax collector’s – positions ostensibly appointed annually.
“Those contracts didn’t expire until June 30, but the board members were fearful of who might come in [after annual town election in early June] and wanted to make sure those contracts were in place before a new board was seated,” Wetherell said.
The other complainant, Robin Wadsworth, is an assessor in Peru.
At the time of the meeting in question, Select Board members included Douglas Haskins, Jay Jewell and Verne Leach. Haskins and Jewell stepped down in June, replaced by Bruce Cullett and Dale Weeks after the annual town election.
The present board must now atone for the errors of the former by reviewing the stated materials within 30 days, Manganaro’s determination, issued Monday, states.
Public interest in meetings surged in the town, where fewer than 1,000 live, amid a now-defunct proposal by Lightship Energy to construct a wind farm in the community.
Many residents who sought more information about Lightship’s intentions felt they were purposely left in the dark, prompting accusations against town officials of secrecy and backdoor dealings.
Lightship pulled its turbine proposal in May and Town Meeting subsequently enacted a zoning bylaw that effectively bars commercial developers of wind energy from the town, which has been identified as one of the most promising locations in Massachusetts for wind energy generation.
The Open Meeting Law issues of the time persist, according to Wetherell, who thinks Peru Select Board meeting minutes rarely “jibe” with what occurred, despite new faces on the board. More formal complaints are in the works, she said.
“I hope that going forward they can be more transparent,” Wetherell said. “But it appears the Board of Selectmen in Peru still think the Open Meeting Law is a laughing matter.”
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