SJC on Open Meeting Law today
SJC interprets Open Meeting Law as mandating no opinion sharing outside meetings
Today the Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion stating the Board of Selectmen of Wayland violated the Open Meeting Law when it circulated by email to select board members ahead of a select board meeting (held to evaluate the town administrator’s performance) the evaluations done by each selectman and a composite summary. This violated the Open Meeting Law because the evaluations contained the “opinions” of the board members, and thus constituted a prohibited “deliberation” outside a posted meeting.
This is what the SJC held:
We conclude that this exemption was enacted to foster administrative efficiency, but only where such efficiency does not come at the expense of the open meeting law’s overarching purpose, transparency in governmental decision-making.
As the individual and composite evaluations of the town administrator by the board members contained opinions, the circulation of such documents among a quorum prior to the open meeting does not fall within the exemption , and thus constituted a deliberation to which the public did not have access, in violation of the open meeting law. We therefore affirm the judge’s decision allowing summary judgment for the plaintiffs on this ground. We agree with the board, however, that the judge erred in “striking” the Attorney General’s determination, and vacate that portion of the judge’s decision.
The SJC also told us that there is a solution, namely by making the select board materials with the opinions available to the public at the same time as the select board shares them, such as by posting the materials on the town website:
If board members wish to circulate documents containing board member opinions among a quorum in advance of an open meeting, as here, prior and relatively contemporaneous public disclosure of those documents , where permissible, is necessary in order to comply with the open meeting law and to
advance the statute’s over-all goal of promoting transparency in governmental decision-making.