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AG: Conway violated meeting law

Recorder succeeds in Open Meeting Law complaint

CONWAY — The state Attorney General has found that the Conway Town Administrator Search Committee violated the Open Meeting Law in several ways when it hired former town administrator Amanda Majewski-Winn in March.

The attorney general’s office, responding to a complaint by The Recorder, found the committee violated the law by engaging in deliberation outside a properly posted meeting, by failing to comply with the requirements for convening an executive session, by failing to comply with requirements for posting notice and by failing to create open session meeting minutes.

“We do not find that the committee intentionally violated the law, however, but rather demonstrated a serious misunderstanding of the law’s requirements,” Hanne Rush, assistant attorney general wrote in the finding.

The attorney general ordered the committee to comply with the law and cautioned that future similar violations may be considered an intent to violate the law. The committee is also ordered to approve and release minutes from its Feb. 26 and March 12 meeting within 30 days. Members also have to view the video training on the Open Meeting Law on the attorney general’s website and certify in writing within 30 days that they have done so.

What happened

On March 26, the Board of Selectmen offered Majewski-Winn — who has since left the position, relocating to Cape Cod with her husband — the full-time job as town administrator.

When The Recorder requested the names of the four semi-finalists, as is mandated by state law and previous court decisions, selectmen declined to do so.

The newspaper, in the interest of government transparency, filed a complaint with the AG’s office alleging that the committee improperly withheld the names of the final candidates for town administrator and should have conducted the finalist interviews in open session. In addition, the committee should not have included a quorum of its parent body, the Board of Selectmen.

According to the attorney general’s response, the Board of Selectmen created a six-member interviewing committee made up of the three Selectboard members, John O’Rourke, Rick Bean and Jim Moore, along with former Personnel Committee chair Heather Rose, Town Treasurer Jan Warner and Finance Committee member Andrea Llamas.

The town received 17 applications for the town administrator position in February. To review the applicants, each of the members visited the town office individually and ranked them in order of their preference. Selectman Bean then organized the preferences and scheduled initial interviews with the top five candidates for Feb. 26.

The committee held two meetings to interview the five candidates in executive session, but posted only one meeting notice, the state found.

On Feb. 26, members O’Rourke, Bean, Rose and Warner met to interview the candidates in a closed executive session. In an attempt to not have a quorum of the board present, Bean left the meeting. The remaining members interviewed five candidates in executive session and rated them in order of preference again. The committee then decided to have the other members, Bean, Moore and Llamas meet the top three and rate them in order of their preference.

On March 12, Bean, Llamas, Rose and Warner interviewed and rated the three top candidates.

Llamas left this meeting in an effort to avoid a quorum. The committee did not post notice for this meeting.

The committee combined the results with the Feb. 26 results, which included the preferences of both Bean and O’Rourke, to choose the finalist. O’Rourke then communicated with Majewski-Winn to confirm her acceptance of the job.

How the law was violated

The committee violated the law in several ways, the state found.

First, the committee members deliberated outside of an open meeting to decide which 17 applicants they would interview.

“By individually ranking their preferences from the 17 applications, and thus sharing their opinion between or among a quorum about the applications, the committee began its preliminary screening process entirely outside of a meeting,” Rush wrote.

After both meetings, O’Rourke and Bean were notified of top candidates when either one of the two weren’t present. The state finds that the committee should have reserved these discussions for a properly posted meeting.

Second, because the committee consisted of a quorum of the Selectboard members, it was not allowed to interview candidates behind closed doors like a preliminary screening committee.

“Despite the committee’s efforts to avoid having a quorum present due to its misguided interpretation of Purpose 8, a quorum of the (select)board contributed to the selection process,” Rush wrote.

Mainly, O’Rourke and Bean’s preferences were combined to render a finalist.

Even if the town had a proper preliminary screening committee, the committee improperly interviewed the finalist candidates behind closed doors, in a nonposted meeting, the state found.

The committee should have provided its preliminary recommendations to the Selectboard after its Feb. 26 meeting when it picked three finalists. The Selectboard should have then conducted interviews and chosen the finalist in open session.

“The committee’s recommendation of the sole finalist, who had already been offered the position prior to its announcement at the board’s meeting on March 26, 2013, left the board with nothing to decide,” Rush wrote. “The committee, therefore, conducted the entire selection process outside of the public view.”

Lastly, the committee also did not comply with procedural requirements of the law by failing to create open session meeting minutes. Because the state believes the committee improperly convened in executive session, the state ordered the committee to approve and release the minutes from its two meetings.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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