Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Water Commission In Hot Seat Over Closed Meeting

Note: Story originally posted Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
By Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—At least three Brockton residents have filed complaints at City Hall alleging the Brockton Water Commission violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when it met in closed session Aug 30, hours after more than 75 protestors rallied against water bills they believe are grossly inaccurate.
Residents Bob Ford, Ayanna Yancey-Cato and Marianne Silva said they filed written complaints about the executive session, or closed meeting and have delivered those to the City Clerk’s office, the Water Commission and Attorney General.
All three violation petitioners confirmed they submitted the complaints and feel they have strong reason to believe the Water Commission broke the law when it met behind closed doors to reign in one of the commissioners, Patrick Quinn when dealing with the media over questions about the controversial water bills.
Yancey-Cato, best known for the $100,000 water bill that was reduced to $17,000, a figure she still disagrees with, said officials associated with the water department and commission seem to be doing whatever they want without regard for law or regulations and the suspected Open Meeting Law violation is just one example.
“Not only do I want the Open Meeting Law violation looked at, I want the whole department investigated. People think that’s what the audit is going to do, but it’s not,” she said.
Commissioner Quinn said in a telephone interview Wednesday night that he warned board members on Aug 30 that the reason they were going into executive session did not fall under any of the 10 exceptions allowed under the law—which include personnel disciplinary matters, union negotiations, the sale or lease of property or employee interviews. (Click here for all the Open Meeting Law exceptions)
“We were told we were going in to talk about internal policies,” Quinn said, “which is not one of the exceptions under the Open Meeting Law. Discussing policies should be done in the open,” Quinn said.
Quinn said he was the only member who voted against going into closed session and when he told members it wasn’t legal, he received a verbal warning.
When the board went behind closed doors, Quinn said, the conversation centered around Quinn’s own comments to the media and how to answer questions about water department problems, specifically from an Enterprise reporter.
“They spent an hour and a half berating me,” Quinn said. “That’s not one of the reasons allowed in the Open Meeting Law to go behind closed doors,” he said.
Bruce Malcolm, chairman of the water commission, when asked about a possible Open Meeting Law violation said in a telephone call Wednesday night that the City Solicitor’s office told him what they were planning to discuss was OK.
“We certainly did the right thing,” Malcolm said.
He then went on to say “it was a meaningless meeting about things the public wouldn’t care about. It was internal stuff. Who was speaking for the board,” he said.
Malcolm said the board quoted the section of the law the City Solicitor’s office gave the board and when asked what exception under the law the board cited when going into closed session, he cut off the conversation.
“I’m not going to discuss this anymore. If you want to put it on the Website go ahead. We listened to the City Solicitor, not Michelle DuBois. I’m done. Good night.”
Officials said water commission members Bruce Malcolm, Ossie Jordan, Jody Hickey and Margaret McGrath cited discussing a person’s reputation or potential dismissal when they voted to go into closed session.
Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois said in an interview Tuesday night that she was working with Ford, Yancey-Cato and Silva to bring complaints about the possible meeting violation.
“If they weren’t going to file a complaint, I was going to do it,” DuBois said.
DuBois said she and emailed members on Friday, at least three days before the Tuesday night meeting to prevent the Water Commission from meeting because she didn’t believe the meeting was properly posted and then the violation worsened, in her opinion, when members went behind closed doors.
DuBois said after initially stalled attempts, she has received a very poor quality voice recording of what was discussed in the closed session and proves the water commission did not meet the restrictions of the law.
“None of what they discussed falls under the exceptions,” DuBois said.
State guidelines require anyone filing a complaint about an Open Meeting Law violation must do so within 30 days of the meeting. Petitioners are required to file the complaint with the public body in question and the clerk’s office of the municipality.
The public body has 14 days to respond to the complaint, and if the petitioners are not satisfied with the response, may then file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.
The complaint by the resident’s notes they believe the Water Commission’s actions were “intentional,” a change in the law that took effect July 1 that requires a board or board members broke the law intentionally in order to incur a fine of up to $1,000.
The complaint asks the Water Commission to vote that it now understands the Open Meeting Law regulations and that the Aug. 30 meeting was a violation. It also asks for further Open Meeting Law training for board members.
To hear the audio from the Water Board's meeting please visit http://www.brocktonbeat.com

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