509WVN #403: Meeting violation/Field forum/SWAT training
- May 10, 2011Dear Wayland Voter,
Wayland continues to keep the Massachusetts attorney general's office busy investigating complaints alleging violations of the Open Meeting Law.
In the latest case the attorney general's open government division found that Wayland selectmen violated the law when they presided over a forum concerning the future of the Loker Conservation-Recreation Area.
The May 4 decision said the selectmen failed to post a formal notice of the meeting and issue minutes of the meeting. The decision noted that extensive publicity before the public forum was a mitigating factor.
"We order immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law," Assistant AG Jonathan Sclarsic wrote. He also ordered the Board of Selectmen to create and approve minutes of the Dec. 7, 2010, forum.
"This letter does not resolve any other complaints which may have been filed with our office or the Board," Sclarsic said. The AG hasn't yet ruled on a complaint filed last August after four selectmen, not realizing they were being televised, privately discussed appointment decisions made previously outside of a public meeting.
Earlier this year the AG ruled that the School Committee had violated the Open Meeting Law 25 times by ignoring proper procedures for going into executive (closed) session.
In another case the AG rejected a complaint that the selectmen lacked authority to go into executive session in 2010 to discuss litigation involving the Wayland Historic District Commission but not the Board of Selectmen. The ruling criticized the selectmen, though, for failing to reconvene in public session to approve a traffic certificate related to the Town Center.
The selectmen were sympathetic to litigation by the developer of the proposed Town Center project against the Commission.
In yet another case, the AG backed the School Committee and selectmen against a complaint that quorums of the two bodies violated the law when U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas visited Wayland for a briefing on the Town Center at the Town Building in November 2009.
When confronted by Open Meeting Law complaints, the selectmen have repeatedly asserted that they take the law seriously. The complaints figured in the April town election campaign. When a voter questioned Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia, he conceded "technical" violations but asserted that officials have not been subject to any fines or "retribution." Correia was re-elected.
George Harris, a Wayland attorney and former selectman, filed all but one of the recent complaints. The other, involving the televised violation in July 2010, was filed by another former selectman, Linda Segal.
Tom Fay, who was involved in recent complaints, recently succeeded Correia as chairman. The post is usually changed annually.
During a regular Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday May 9, Fay introduced a statement that didn't quarrel with the AG's decision but attempted to explain the circumstances. It argued that the December forum was successful and well attended, and the presence and participation of a quorum of selectmen was virtually accidental.
The selectmen noted that Selectman Joe Nolan was not there for the entire meeting. Town Administrator Fred Turkington said he had asked Assistant AG Sclarsic whether that raised serious questions about conducting a meeting partly without a quorum. Sclarsic said no, according to Turkington.
"Mr. Harris gets to say `gotcha,'" Nolan told his colleagues. "Unfortunately we had to spend resources to chase this down."
Before the December forum, officials were warned about potential violations of the Open Meeting Law. Linda Segal says she asked Town Administrator Turkington to consider options to avoid a legal problem. She repeated the warning in a point of order as the forum began. Turkington responded, explaining why he believed the selectmen did not need to be posted to meet. Selectman Steve Correia then proceeded to lead the forum.
In its May 4 decision, the AG explained point by point why the selectmen's and Turkington's interpretations of the OML were flawed. That downloadable link appears to the right of the Wayland Town Crier news story: http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/topstories/x552985932/AG-says-Wayland-selectmen-violated-Open-Meeting-Law-again#axzz1LtCDoLla
At the May 9 Recreation Commission meeting, while discussing with a Board of Public Works member the upcoming May 25 public forum for the middle school fields proposal, there was agreement that both boards should post the meeting.
-- Michael Short
FORUM ON FIELDS NEAR MIDDLE SCHOOL
A public forum is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday May 25 at the Town Building to collect views on a proposal to build playing fields for general use on Middle School land.
"The sole purpose of the public forum is to listen to public comment regarding the project; no votes will be taken during the forum," Town Administrator Fred Turkington said in an announcement. At the Board of Selectmen meeting on May 9 he listed some concerns already raised by residents: the feasibility of creating a leaching field, increased traffic, stormwater runoff, possible pesticide effects on water supplies, protecting historic artifacts, buffering the fields from residences, looking at the aging DPW garage site as an alternative.
Also on May 9, Middle School neighbors appeared at the School Committee meeting to raise additional concerns. The woods that would be destroyed to create the new fields are used extensively by teachers and students for science, art, literature, and wellness classes, one neighbor said. The annual Walden Pond bike excursion begins and ends in the woods, she continued. Another reminded the Committee that its primary responsibility is to protect educational resources. But Superintendent Gary Burton told the committee that he had queried the Middle School administration and all current uses of the woods could be shifted elsewhere.
Another neighbor questioned whether the unused Orchard Lane school site had been considered for new fields, and if not, suggested it be considered. Orchard Lane was not mentioned in the supposedly comprehensive Gale assessment of potential recreational spaces.
The Committee put off any decision pending the outcome of the planning process.
Brud Wright of the Recreation Commission and Recreation Director Nancy McShea will conduct the May 25 forum. The aim is to identify concerns before hiring site assessment professionals next month. Proponents hope to put a proposal before voters at the 2012 Annual Town Meeting.
More information: nmcshea@... or Brud Wright at aquaticlss@....
-- WVN Staff
SELECTMEN OFFICE HOURS
Selectmen John Bladon and Sue Pope will be available to talk with residents at the transfer station from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on Saturday May 14.
SWAT TRAINING AT FORMER RAYTHEON SITE
It might look like an emergency to passersby, but it's simply training. Police rapid response and SWAT teams will train at the former Raytheon site on Route 20 on Wednesday May 11.
The Wayland Police Department, a member of the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, coordinated using the building, which is to be demolished to make way for the Town Center project.