To the Editor:
To the chairs of all committees/boards re your open meeting law education, I applaud all who strive to do public service in whatever capacity. If you happen to become a chair of any of these committees, you must become aware of the Massachusetts open meeting law’s requirements and definitions found in G.L. c.30A, Sections 18-25. Too many chairs and town officials are not. Let’s start at the beginning:
Section 18 [definitions]
“Post notice” – to display conspicuously the written announcement of a meeting either in hard copy or electronic format. Agenda is not required and is optional.
Section 20 – [notice of meeting]
“Except for emergency meetings, every meeting must be posted with the Town Clerk at least 48 hours prior to your meeting, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.” Remember: Hull Town Hall is closed on Fridays. Too many are often confused with the timing.
Section 18 [definitions]
“Quorum” is a simple majority of the committee; if there is none, then no business may be transacted, not even acting on the minutes. Many are not sure of this situation.
These words are written at the very bottom of every posting notice:
“The listing of [agenda] items are those reasonably anticipated by the Chair which may be discussed. Not all [agenda] items may in fact be discussed and other items not listed may also be discussed to the extent permitted by law.” Too many chairs do not read this, nor do they abide by it consistently, if at all, especially that which is written in the second sentence.
The chair’s job is to steer participation, not quash it. If the committee doesn’t want to open discussion to the public, then state that. Never use the invalid reason that because it’s not on the agenda it can’t be discussed. This is a common error of chairs who are not familiar with the open meeting law.
Section 21 [executive session]
When voting to go into executive session, as well as votes in that session, the vote of each member must be recorded by roll call and entered into the minutes.
Section 22(c) [meeting minutes; records]
Minutes of all open sessions shall be created and approved in a timely manner. They shall be made available upon request by any person within 10 days.
Too many chairs let this slide and do not enforce this section of the open meeting law. Too often the minutes of the previous meeting(s) are not acted on and sent forward to the town clerk. Many are done dutifully; there are, however, many that are unnecessarily delayed or put aside. This is a violation of the open meeting law.
Pandemic guidelines [voting]
In an open session, all votes on every issue must be recorded by roll call.
The writer is an architect of bylaws for a public institution and a student of the basics of the open meeting law.