|AG's Office Finds Mount Greylock School Committee Violated Open Meeting Law|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
01:58PM / Tuesday, March 02, 2021
BOSTON — The Attorney General's Office has determined that the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law in a July, 1, 2020, meeting about its plans to replace the district's superintendent.
An assistant attorney general in the AGO's Division of Open Government notified the district and iBerkshires.com of the complaint's resolution via email on Monday afternoon.
iBerkshires.com filed a complaint against the committee in July after it became apparent in an open session that the panel had discussed things in executive session that were beyond the stated purpose.
Through its attorney, Westfield's Dupere Law Offices, the School Committee denied
the allegation with a defense that addressed allegations not made in the complaint while ignoring the substance of the complaint itself. The complaint then went to the AGO for review.
On Monday, the Attorney General's Office sided with iBerkshires.com.
"[W]e find that the Committee violated the Open Meeting Law by discussing in executive session on July 1 certain matters that did not pertain to the Superintendent's separation agreement and thus did not fit within the parameters of Purpose 2 [for executive session]," Kerry Anne Kilcoyne wrote on behalf of the Attorney General's Office.
Kilcoyne wrote that the AGO had reviewed the minutes of executive session meetings and had spoken to former Mount Greylock Superintendent Kimberley Grady and the district's counsel, Adam Dupere, in conducting its investigation.
The AGO found that the committee's series of meetings in June and July of last year did include discussions of Grady's contract -- specifically a separation agreement -- but also went beyond the topic of negotiation, a legitimate point of discussion in executive session.
"The Committee [on July 1] continued to discuss specific terms for reaching a separation agreement with the Superintendent but also discussed the need for an interim Superintendent and how to address questions and public comments regarding the Superintendent's departure" Kilcoyne wrote.
"We find that the Committee's discussions relative to hiring an interim Superintendent and how to respond to comments and questions about the Superintendent's departure did not fit within the parameters of executive session Purpose 2, or any other executive session purpose."
The Attorney General's Office only drew a conclusion that the School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law in its July 1 meeting, but the footnotes of the AGO's opinion indicate that the June 17 and June 25 meetings were equally problematic.
"During the June 17 and June 25 executive session meetings, the Committee discussed specific terms for reaching a separation agreement with the Superintendent and some members commented on the Superintendent's overall performance," Kilcoyne wrote.
That sentence has a footnote that reads:
"We note that references to the Superintendent's professional competence that directly relate to the public body's consideration of whether to renew a contract can be appropriate under Purpose 2 [for executive session]. See District Attorney for Northern Dist. v. School Committee of Wayland, 455 Mass. 561, 568 (Mass. 2009) ("[w]hile professional competence must first be discussed in an open session, how that evaluation will factor into a contract or salary negotiation strategy may be a suitable discussion for an executive session").
The language of the Wayland decision cited in the footnote makes clear that professional competence "must first be discussed in open session." But the School Committee never discussed Grady's professional competence prior to her departure, unless you count a 2019 performance review that gave her passing grades.
In fact, the School Committee ignored its contractual obligation to give Grady a 2020 performance review, and it never discussed in a public session her professional competence -- either before or after her departure and certainly not before its June 17 and 25 executive sessions.
The Attorney General's Office also raised an Open Meeting Law violation not identified in the iBerkshires.com complaint against the School Committee.
"Although not raised in the complaints, we note our concern with the Committee's apparent failure to convene in open session prior to entering executive session on June 3 and June 17," Kilcoyne wrote. "According to the minutes, the Committee met remotely and completed the procedural steps before convening in each executive session, including announcing the purpose for the executive sessions and taking a roll call vote. However, the public has a right to witness these procedural steps in order to observe the vote and learn the purpose for the executive session."
iBerkshires.com filed a second Open Meeting Law complaint against the committee alleging that a closed-door meeting by the committee on July 24 to discuss the first complaint was not an appropriate use of executive session. The Attorney General's Office ruled in favor of the committee on that complaint.
"Our office has stated in past determinations that public bodies may meet in executive session under Purpose 1 to review Open Meeting Law complaints against the body," Kilcoyne wrote.
As for the July 1 violation by the Mount Greylock School Committee, only three members remain on the seven-person panel from that date: Carolyn Greene, Steven Miller and Chair Christina Conry. Adam Dupere, who attended the July 1 meeting, continues to serve as the district's counsel.
"Because the Committee has released the July 1 executive session meeting minutes, we order no additional relief," Kilcoyne wrote.
The AGO's opinion did, however, include a warning for how the School Committee should conduct itself going forward.
"We order the Committee's immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law, and we caution that similar future violations may be considered evidence of intent to violate the law," Kilcoyne wrote.