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Easton Finance Commitee Discusses Open Meeting Law Violation

Town Clerk Jeremy Gillis visited the Finance Committee this week to discuss an Open Meeting Law violation that occurred in November.

The Easton Finance Committee got a crash course in the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Tuesday night.

The committee was visited by Town Clerk Jeremy Gillis, who went into detail about Open Meeting Law and what constitutes as a violation. Gillis was asked to attend the meeting by Finance Committee members.

The meeting comes after what Gillis said was a recent violation of the Open Meeting Law by the Easton Finance Committee. On Nov. 7, 2012, the committee conducted a meeting and posted minutes with only four people present, Gillis said. In the nine person committee, five people must be present in order for the meeting to take place.

The four members of the committee met that night with Police Chief Allen Krajcik, Fire Chief Kevin Partridge, Department of Public Works Director David Field and Town Accountant Wendy Nightingale to discuss November Special Town Meeting warrant articles.

"We sort of always worked under the impression that if there was not a quorum, we could meet, we couldn't vote, we couldn't deliberate," Finance Committee Chair Carol Nestler told Gillis at Tuesday's meeting, which has since aired on Easton Community Access Television. "That's sort of what we operated on. We did have some people here who had taken time out of their days to do a presentation."

Gillis, however, told members that the meeting shouldn't have moved forward that night.

"The only things you should have done that night would have been to immediately adjourn the meeting [and] set a new time for the meeting - or set a recess, get on your cellphones and try to get someone here [to] try to achieve a quorum," he said. "Other than that, nothing should have happened."

The violation of Open Meeting Law occurred when the minutes were taken and submitted, Gillis said. The result is "serial deliberation," where a quorum learns of business conducted at a meeting outside of a posted meeting.

"You can’t use information you gained unlawfully to conduct a meeting, so as soon as five members – as soon as a fifth member looked at this set of minutes or one of the four members called a fifth member and told them what happened, that in itself forms a meeting, and that meeting wasn’t posted, therefore it was outside the constraints of the Open Meeting Law," Gillis told Patch.

Gillis said the Finance Committee's violation of the law was not blatant or intentional, and he used Tuesday as a "teaching moment" to avoid future violations of the law.

"A complaint can be filed with the Attorney General and we can get an actual ruling from the Attorney General on what happened," he said. "Generally, I like to keep things in house and not involve the state to begin with – try to get them as teaching moments – clean up our own messes before we involve the Attorney General. But, generally there is no real penalty unless it is blatant and they really meant to do it."

Gillis also told Finance Committee members that future meetings involving more than one member, even if they are small meetings to discuss departmental budgets, need to be posted as subcommittee meetings.

However, one person meeting with a department head and then reporting back to the committee during a posted meeting would not be a violation of the Open Meeting Law. Instead it would be "a function of the committee," he told Finance Committee members.

Nestler clarified with Gillis that if one member met with the Department Heads on Nov. 7 and reported back at the next posted meeting, it could have prevented any violations.

"So, in that scenario, it would have solved the problem of - these people took a night of their life to come see us," she said." [It would have] not violated the law, technically."

Kim DuBois February 15, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Kudos to Carol Nestler for asking Jeremy to attend the committee meeting on this issue in the first place. She was concerned about this issue and wanted to have an open discussion on what may or may not have transpired back in November. The Finance Committee did in fact contact to AGs Office on their own but wanted to confirm any potential issues with the Town Clerk to avoid any future issues for any board or committee, as the Open Meeting Laws are NOT very user friendly. Keep up the good work Carol!
Bob Mielde February 15, 2013 at 01:22 PM
In my personal opinion, the fact that Dr. Jeremy Gillis, professor of Martha Coakely's School of Hacks & Political Wannabies, was contacted in the first place is only because 'somebody' was caught with his hand in the cookie jar - doing something outside of the scope of the legality with funds, and opted to divert the attention AWAY from himself by playing on the Open Meeting Law crap. WIth as many 'backroom' deals that exist in this town with some of these clowns, the last thing that they should be doing is stirring the pot with issues as ridiculous as the silly minor technical points of Martha Coakley's piece-of-crap law. The town needs to worry about MUCH bigger issues, like $5 mil in Capital Expenditures for many items not necessary, or a budget that has DOUBLED since 2002! Hiding behind the 'Open Meeting Law' bullcrap will only hide the mismanagement of this town for so long.The FinCom is IGNORED by the T/A & BOS, and is shunned at every intersection. A small group has slowly 'weaseled' their way into power, and refuses to listen to the taxpayers that actually foot the bills! Time to stop the insanity, and apply some common sense that appears to be lacking at Town Hall. WAKE UP EASTON! A wolf in sheep's clothing is among you... Of course, that's just my opinion - I could be wrong.
Homer February 17, 2013 at 01:01 PM
Huh. Seems to me you should have raised these points with gillis and Colton when they were sitting in front of you......
Janet Sroczynski February 17, 2013 at 02:04 PM
@Bob Mielde - a lot of us feel the way you do. So thanks for putting the information out there in plain view. Start with the "Non-Easton Residents" and "Non-Easton Taxpayers" -and the trail of bread crumbs will lead you to the answer. 1) David Colton - Non-Easton Resident and Non-Easton Taxpayer. Let's start right here. Town Administrator with strong ties to all departments, lives in Milton. 2) Michael A. Green - Non-Easton Resident and Non-Easton Taxpayer. Lives in Stoughton. Current Position: Easton School Department Superintendent. 3) Cathy MacLeod - Non-Easton Resident and Non-Easton Taxpayer. Lives in Millis. Current Position: School Department Assistant Superintendent, in the running for Hopkington School Superintendent job-contract/salary under current negotiation there. 4) Multiple Easton School Principals - Non-Easton Residents and Non-Easton Taxpayers. Example: Gary F. Mazzola - HHRichardson School/FLOlmsted School-lives in East Walpole. 5) Many other examples....follow the trail of bread crumbs.
Bob Mielde February 17, 2013 at 05:32 PM
I actually HAVE....just not at that particular moment that the TV camera was on. I also have had multiple occasions to voice my 'opinion' on the mismanagement issues, as well as the overspending - mainly during Capital Panning meetings. However, that is rarely seen by the public. I for one actually voiced my opinion with the AG's office DIRECTLY after I was accused of violating the Open Meeting Law, and had it plastered across the front page of The Emptyprise. WHilst - I was truly 'in violation' of the law on that occasion, the FinCom issue - current episode - is NOT, to the letter of the law. It is one dweebs 'interpretation. Read the actual law, as many of us have. There was NO violation. Just an attempt to divert attention away. Let's ask the Firefighter's Union about the tactics of this Town Administrator and BOS. There is more couresty given to the gatekeeper of 'eastonmass.com' than the Public Safety employees and OTHER elected boards! I have great opposition to the spendhappy element that is presently in control at Town Hall, leading to our tax bills growing exponentially when they don't have to. We are spending taxpayer dollars (millions in CPA funds) to provide 'affordable' housing; really? Look at the prices! Affordable to WHO? Those people who raised their families here (senior citizens) are now being driven out by ever rising tax bills and fees. Of course, that's just my opinion - I could be wrong.

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