AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, February 14, 2014
Foxboro Selectmen And Open Meeting Law
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 14, 2014.
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
state’s Open Meeting Law (OML) is often made out to be some complex series of
regulations.But it really isn’t.It is a relatively simple statement of the
rules for keeping government meetings open to the public.
is clearly evidenced by the fact most cities and towns have little trouble
following it.Sure, they might need some
guidance from their lawyers or state officials on interpreting some of the
finer points.But year after year, for
many decades now, Massachusetts municipalities generally abide by the spirit
and the letter of this important statute.
then, there is Foxboro…
repeated and continued violations of the OML occur in the same community, it is
usually because someone or some group of officials has decided following the
law is inconvenient, politically inexpedient, or just beneath them.The blatant disregard and political abuse of
the OML in Foxboro is well-documented and quite institutionalized.And it is time for it to come to an end.
town’s Board of Selectmen is the most recent and perhaps the most regular
violator of the OML.While it is
difficult to term their abuse of the law as deliberate, it is becoming even
tougher to believe it continues to be an accident.Quite frankly, if you seek not to impugn the
board’s integrity in this regard, you almost have to get to the point of
questioning their intelligence.
selectmen violated the OML when they voted in closed session to terminate the
contract of former town manager Kevin Paicos.They did this with their attorney in the room.They later admitted the violation and took
the vote again in open session, after they had achieved the political objective
that led to the illegal vote in the first place.No harm, no foul was the apparent attitude.
recently they have fought with their own town counsel over whether or not they
were guilty of another OML violation.This time it involved an illegal communication from selectman Lorraine
Brue to her other members concerning the proposed liquor license for the
Splitsville bowling alley/nightclub.
selectmen and the town manager all stated there was no violation in this
instance, it was discovered their attorney had a different opinion.After much haggling and some citizen
intervention, they decided to have Brue read her email aloud as a way to “cure”
the violation they earlier said did not exist.Once again, it amounts to copping a plea with no punishment after
achieving their political goal.
there was great effort taken to stress the violation was “inadvertent”.The OML does indeed differentiate between
intentional violations and deliberate ones, but it is often very difficult to
prove the former.In the end, a
violation is a violation.If you take on
the responsibility of being a selectman, the need to understand and follow the
OML becomes a part of that.
selectmen appear to be using the OML as a way of preventing their real and
alleged violations from being discussed or addressed.They have taken steps to structure their
agenda to prevent citizens from bringing it up.They have refused requests from one of their own members to publicly
address the issue in a transparent and direct manner.They are using the law to help them avoid
confronting their own missteps and mistakes.
Jim DeVellis has been consistently thwarted in his efforts to focus the board
on truly living up to the ideals of the OML.He has tried to open up the process instead of covering it up, with
little to no success.“Selectmen and
applicants come and go, but the public process should remain intact,” he
sad truth is if selectmen put as much effort into following the OML as they
have in trying to get around it, they would not be in the trouble they now
face.They would not be in the position
of appearing to consider themselves above the law.They would not be at risk of having their
integrity publicly challenged.
have blamed the public for the prevailing political attitude permeating Foxboro
these days.But they need look no
further than themselves for an example of bad behavior leading to problems in
the local government.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at