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AG: Ashfield official didn’t violate meeting law

ASHFIELD — The Attorney General’s Office has determined that former Selectboard Chairman Douglas Field did not violate state Open Meeting Law by attempting to silence a fellow board member during a heated discussion a year ago.

The complaint, filed by resident Sherrill Jourdan last year, accused Field of violating that law and the constitutional rights of Selectboard member Paullette Leukhardt, “when he attempted to silence and remove another sitting member of the board.”

During the meeting on Sept. 27, 2012, a disagreement over meeting minutes escalated between Leukhardt and board member Ron Coler and Leukhardt was asked by Field to stop speaking. When she continued speaking, a town police officer suggested she leave the meeting. Leukhardt remained for the rest of the meeting.

According to the attorney general, the Open Meeting Law states: “no person shall address a meeting of a public body without permission of the chair, and all persons shall, at the request of the chair, be silent. ... If, after clear warning from the chair, a person continues to disrupt the proceedings, the chair may order the person to withdraw.”

A letter from Jonathan Sclarsic, assistant attorney general, says that: “While the chair acted within his discretion under the law, we strongly discourage the removal of properly seated public body members from meetings of public bodies. If, as occurred here, tensions escalate to a point where they interfere with the conduct of a meeting, a temporary adjournment may be appropriate. Removal should be used as a last resort.”

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