480WVN #385: Selectmen again violated Open Meeting Law
- Jan 10, 2011Dear Wayland Voter,
For the second time in recent months the Board of Selectmen has admitted to violating the state Open Meeting Law.
Also in this newsletter:
-- Wayland now has the fifth-highest Massachusetts property tax rate.
-- The Board of Public Works will discuss setting water rates Monday night.
-- A tip of the hat to Wayland community accomplishments that didn't necessarily make headlines in 2010.
SELECTMEN AGAIN VIOLATED OPEN MEETING LAW
Wayland selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law during a closed session to discuss a suit involving the Town Center project, the Massachusetts attorney general has ruled.
"We order the Board to comply with the Open Meeting Law, with particular attention to
keeping executive session discussions and decisions limited to the narrow purposes for executive session," the Jan. 3 decision said, warning, "Similar future violations may be considered evidence of an intent to violate the Open Meeting Law."
The selectmen have been accused several times recently of violating the Open Meeting Law. The attorney general's office is still investigating violationsaccidentally captured on video last July 8 showing four selectmen privately discussing appointments to the Historic District Commission and Conservation Commission that had been decided out of public view. The Board admitted to a "technical violation."
The Jan. 3 decision ruled that the selectmen properly met in executive session last July 26 to discuss litigation strategy but violated the law when they went on to discuss issuing a traffic safety certification. Instead, the ruling continued, the selectmen should have reconvened in public to discuss the matter. Further, if it couldn't separate the traffic matter from its litigation position, the Board should have approved the traffic certification in executive session and then immediately reconvened in public to announce the decision and the roll call vote.
Twenty Wayland, developer of the proposed mixed-use project on Route 20, had sued the Historic District Commission (HDC) to prevent it from exercising some authority over the timing of road widening in the District. The selectmen's certification supported the developer's position, requiring road widening before Town Center construction begins.
The certification was issued on Aug. 4 but not made public (by the developer, not the selectmen) until an HDC meeting on Sept. 1.
Ultimately the developer and the HDC settled the suit with an agreement on the timing.
Responding to the attorney general's latest ruling, Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia said the Board takes the matter seriously. "It was a technical issue, and we will move forward from it," he told the Wayland Town Crier. "This was an accident, it was not a malicious act." He acknowledged the error but said he believed that the certification could be discussed because it seemed to be essentially the same as a letter sent to the HDC in January 2009.
The complaint to the attorney general, filed by attorney and former Wayland selectman George Harris, argued that traffic safety should always be discussed in public. Linking traffic safety with closed discussion of litigation strategy is merely an attempt to circumvent the law, he said.
Harris cited a Dec. 31, 2009 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court against the Wayland School Committee that ended five years of litigation. The Committee argued that it could discuss the school superintendent's professional competence during an executive session concerning his contract. The high court held that discussion of professional competence is not exempt from the Open Meeting Law, which lists specific exceptions to the requirement that officials meet in public.
The latest ruling from the state may not be the last concerning the Wayland Board of Selectmen. In addition to the pending complaint on the discussion of HDCand ConCom appointments from last summer, a new complaint was filed last week alleging that the selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law when they presided over a meeting held by the Board of Selectmen and Recreation Commission to discuss the future of the Loker conservation and recreation area.
The complaint, also by George Harris, alleges that the selectmen failed to post proper advance notice and keep minutes of the Dec. 7 meeting attended by a quorum of the Board.
Town Administrator Fred Turkington said that the law doesn't apply to the jointly sponsored Loker forum. Harris replied:
"Board chair Correia ran the forum. He introduced and explained the forum at the podium. He set the ground rules for the forum. He directed the course of the forum. He alone recognized those members of boards or the public who would speak. He made frequent comments regarding the business of the forum (more than anyone else). He alone controlled and managed the forum, and this is plainly evident from the video. It is also evident that the other two members of the Board, as well as the Recreation Commission, were in agreement that Mr. Correia would chair the meeting. The Recreation Commission played no role whatsoever in running the meeting."
The video is available at WayCAM's Video on Demand: www.waycam.tv
In October the attorney general upheld the Board of Selectmen in an Open Meeting Law complaint regarding a visit to the town by U.S. Rep Niki Tsongas.
When former selectman Linda Segal made an initial inquiry that ultimately resulted in the Selectmen admitting a "technical transgression" involving the July 8 meeting, Correia's initial response was to allege "borderline harassment." See:
More recently, selectmen have grumbled that procedural complaints from Harris and others take up valuable staff time.
-- Michael Short
WAYLAND RANKS FIFTH IN TAX RATE
Wayland now has the third highest residential tax rate in eastern Massachusetts, and ranks fifth in the entire state for the current tax year, Fiscal 2011. Last year, Wayland ranked sixth in the state, and second in the eastern part of the state behind Sharon.
Sharon and Bolton edged ahead of Wayland's 19.35 per $1,000 rate for fiscal 2011. In FY 12 more of the debt for the new Wayland high school will be added to the tax rolls.
Among Wayland's peer towns, the FY 11 tax rates and state ranking are:
#2 Sharon 19.47;
#5 Wayland 19.35;
#28 Sudbury, 17.03;
#45 Carlisle, 16.17;
#88 Medfield 15.02;
#164 Lynnfield 13.49;
#182 Concord 13.19;
#219 Lincoln 12.37;
#252 Weston 11.39;
#259 Scituate 11.25;
For towns in Eastern Massachusetts the FY 11 ranking is Sharon, Bolton, Wayland, Amesbury, Westboro, Acton, Holliston, Sherborn.
What a difference a couple of years make. In FY 09, Wayland's residential tax rate ranked number 12 in the state, and fifth in eastern Massachusetts behind Sharon, Acton, Amesbury, and Sherborn.
For information on property assessments and abatements see:
-- WVN Staff
WATER RATE MEETING
Monday Jan. 10, 7:05 p.m. The Board of Public Works will hear from a consultant engaged to make recommendations on water rates. There will be no public comment at this meeting. A rate hearing is expected to be scheduled in the next four weeks. Some users have expressed concern about such things as the current flat surcharge.
2010 COMMUNITY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In 2010 Wayland faced challenges including flooding and fiscal pressures. On the positive side, construction of the new high school began.
Below, in no particular order, are accomplishments that received less attention but are worth noting as the work of the new year begins.
-- The town's new $10.8 million Baldwin water treatment plant became fully operational.
-- The Master Plan advisory committee completed two years worth of work and delivered the updated plan to the Planning Board.
-- The Route 20 bridge project was completed, including a new boat launch and landscaping.
-- The Landfill became a transfer station and completed its first year of "pay as you throw."
-- The Surface Water Quality Committee successfully managed invasive weeds with a variety of techniques.
-- The Board of Health and nurses worked intensely to address H1N1 flu.
-- The Beautification Committee continued its work, proving it possible to do more with less.
-- The Recreation Commission completed a Master Plan Field Study to help plan to meet town's future athletic needs.
-- The Town Clerk's office successfully managed six elections, far above the norm.
-- RTA (the RIDE) bus service began stopping in Cochituate.
-- PILOT (Public Independent Living Options Team) announced organizational steps to provide important services to seniors.
-- Town Meeting supported the first Habitat for Humanity housing project in Wayland.
-- The Assessors' office reorganized and is contracting for a long-awaited full list and measure of properties.
-- Wayland Angels continued to provide vital services while expanding into the Neighborhood Brigade.
-- The Wayland Charitable Committee provided vital financial aid to those in need as the renamed Wayland Community Fund.
-- Wayland students and adults organized and held a successful first Annual Earth Day.
-- WayCAM built support for the cable TV studio to remain at Wayland High School. A unanimous fall Town Meeting vote gave authority to the selectmen to lease the Weight Room, creating a chance to make a lease proposal.
-- WVN Staff
Deadline to submit warrant articles for the spring Annual Town Meeting is
Tuesday Jan. 18 at 4:30 p.m.
Nomination papers are available for local town election. Link to the schedule for election and Town Meeting process
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor