Selectmen Violate Charter; Likely Violate OML Again [with video]
Sharp focus on the Charter's language has led some residents to conclude that, for six years, Selectmen violated Section 4.1 [c] of the Charter by neglecting to post publicly or make available the Town Manager's annual performance reviews, as required by the Charter.
Perhaps more seriously, this conclusion led to the recognition that the Open Meeting Law was probably violated by the illegal deliberative process Selectmen used to conduct these reviews, the same deliberative process cited when the Attorney General found Selectmen guilty of violating the Open Meeting Law earlier this year.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Josh Degen opened Monday night's meeting with a statement addressing this potential violation of the Open Meeting Law, saying he would make a statement, but take no questions or comments.
According to Degen, Selectman Jack Petropoulos contacted the Attorney General's office, concerned about an Open Meeting Law violation occurring March 2014 regarding the Town Manager's performance evaluation conducted by the Board. Petropoulos was concerned that Selectmen conducted serial discussions of the evaluation by email, a clear violation of the law.
Degen said Town Counsel at Kopelman & Paige was contacted about the violation and a possible remedy, adding that this violation occurred around the same time as another Open Meeting Law violation earlier this year.
In that case, the Attorney General's Office found that the Board had violated the Open Meeting Law when there was an effort by then Chairman Peter Cunningham to waive $4,500 in permitting fees for reconstruction of the Blood Farm.
The Attorney General ruling stated, "Gauging member's interest in a proposal prior to its introduction at a meeting constitutes an active solicitation of an opinion of a Board member. We have previously stated that this behavior, when reaching a quorum, is in violation of the open Meeting Law."
Degen said that the Board would discuss the violation at their next meeting Monday, Dec. 15.
Violation of Section 4.1[c]
In a recent Charter review meeting, it became clear that Section 4.1 [c] of the Charter, a section requiring public availability of the Town Manager's job performance review had been ignored for all six years of the Town Manger's tenure. Although the annual review has taken place most years, the results of the review were not made public, as the Charter requires.
Section 4.1 (c) of the Charter reads, "The board of selectmen shall provide for an annual review of the job performance of the town manager, which shall, at least in summary form, be a public record in accordance with the personnel bylaws or accepted evaluation process."
On November 6, The Groton Line asked for copies of the Town Manager's performance reviews, receiving no response. Two weeks after this request, the online news site filed a Public Information Request for the documents the Charter says should be publicly posted. According to a story in The Line, on November 19, Town Clerk Bouchard sent them summaries of the Town Manager's performance reviews for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The summary reviews are short, less than a page each and speak of Haddad's performance in
those years. There was no review for 2013, Bouchard explained, because Stuart Schulman, then Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said that the renewal of the Town Manager's contract would serve as his review.
In addition, The Town did not release complete performance evaluations because the documents in question are not public records under exemption (c) of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 4 Section 7 (26). The law says, "personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," The Groton Line story said.