758WVN #554: State asks maximum fine in School Committee OML violation
- May 2 2:34 PMDear Wayland Voter,
The attorney general’s office says the Wayland School Committee should be fined the maximum $1,000 for intentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
The April 28 decision stems from a meeting on June 3, 2013, when the Committee went into executive (closed) session to discuss an employee accused of unauthorized access to financial accounting software. Superintendent Paul Stein later fired the employee.
Complaints alleging the violation came independently from two citizens, School Committee member Donna Bouchard and former selectman George Harris. Harris, an attorney, has filed a number of OML complaints in recent years.
Despite considerable publicity, school officials still haven’t identified the employee. An auditor’s report said the employee created new accounts, renamed accounts, redistributed payroll expenditures and performed other unauthorized actions. At the time Bouchard called it a “serious security breach.”
The decision written by Assistant Attorney General Mark M. Higgins rejected arguments by the School Committee’s attorney. Higgins declared that the School Committee erred when it invoked the employee’s right to privacy.
That right doesn’t apply when the matter is of public concern, Higgins said: “The discussions that took place during the executive session involved the implications of unauthorized access to municipal accounting software by a public employee and the risk of — if not the actual ~ unauthorized shifting and paying out of public funds. Such a discussion of the disposition of public monies is a matter of legitimate public concern.”
The decision ordered the School Committee to make public the minutes of the executive session along with any documents the Committee used. The Committee must also inform the subject of the executive session at least seven days before the material is released. The School Committee also violated the law because the motion to enter executive session was made by a member, not the chairman, the decision ruled.
The executive session was listed in the posted agenda for the June 3 meeting as “Personnel Matter,” which the decision found not specific enough. The public could have been told more without compromising the purpose of the intended session, Higgins wrote.
The School Committee had been warned, but not penalized, after an earlier failure to be sufficiently specific in a posted notice. For that reason, Higgins declared the June 3 violation to be intentional and referred the matter to a hearing with a recommendation for the maximum fine.
Though Wayland officials have been found in violation of the Open Meeting law several times, the only previous recent fine was in response to a deliberate breach of the law in 2010 by four selectmen who decided committee appointments outside of public view while unaware that a video camera was recording the violation.
Since the attorney general’s office took jurisdiction over the Open Meeting Law in 2010, fines were imposed in only four cases for intentional violations.
To read the ruling, use the following link and click on the April 28, 2014 date for OML 2014-42:
-- Michael Short
SPRING BOOK AND BAKE SALE
Saturday May 3, 10-4, and Sunday May 4. 12-4. Large hearing room, Town Building. Sponsored by Friends of the Wayland LIbrary.
EARTH DAY SKILLFEST
Sunday, May 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Town Building. More than 40 skills workshops and exhibitors, treasure hunt, lunch, coffee, tea, lemonade. Details:
MEETING CALENDAR - all meetings in town building unless otherwise noted
Monday, May 5:
Council on Aging, 8 a.m. Agenda includes “Quest for Space Initiative”
Selectmen, 6:30 p.m. Agenda includes executive session, accepting gift payments, appointment of new wastewater commissioner, next steps in town administrator search, town meeting follow-up
Personnel Board, 7 p.m. Agenda includes town administrator search, town meeting follow up for Wayland Cares, executive session, board vacancy
Board of Health, 7 p.m. Agenda includes electronic burial permits, appearance of NStar’s Bill Hayes, senior arborist, regarding the utility’s yearly operational plan
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor