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Conway Selectboard chairman refuses to speak to newspaper

CONWAY — Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said Monday he will no longer provide information to The Recorder.

“Personally, I have had it with the Recorder,” O’Rourke said in a prepared statement. “I will no longer offer any information or answer any questions of the Recorder staff.”

The board meeting on Monday had three discussion items listed on the agenda. Of the three topics, two were tabled until the next week for Selectman Rick Bean, who was absent, to participate.

O’Rourke’s statement concerning the newspaper’s coverage and its open meeting law complaint against the selectmen was the main topic Monday.

The town leader also encouraged other town employees and committee members to no longer speak with the newspaper.

“The concept of a free press is a double edged sword,” said O’Rourke. “If news is reported accurately, then it is good; if a story is filled with implications, innuendo and discrepancies in the facts, then it is bad and not real “news.”

O’Rourke’s main concern revolves around the state Open Meeting Law complaint The Recorder filed on April 18 with the attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s office is still investigating the complaint.

In March, the Town Administrator Search Committee reviewed resumes of 17 applicants for the full-time job and from that group chose five candidates for interviews. After private interviews, the committee recommended one finalist, Amanda Majewski-Winn, who took the job.

The Recorder made a public records request for the names of the other four finalists, believing the public has the right to know who the runners-up were for the public job.

O’Rourke denied the request, citing privacy law and the wish of all the applicants to keep their names private.

The newspaper appealed to the state, believing the closed interviews were held inappropriately. A previous court ruling on this issue, in the 2006 Commonwealth v. Westborough Selectmen case, said that preliminary screening of candidates for public jobs, which are allowed by law to be held in closed-door meetings, should nevertheless yield more than one name, otherwise it is not “preliminary.”

O’Rourke cited two state laws, the Right to Privacy Law and an exemption in the Public Records Law in his argument for keeping names private. He also cited a state Superior Court ruling that a search committee did not violate the law for not disclosing applicants names because some applicants’ privacy may be invaded by the disclosure.

“Based on that court decision, I am fully confident that the Attorney General will find that the preliminary search committee did not violate the Open Meeting Law,” O’Rourke said. “The Open Meeting Law complaint filed by The Recorder and the stories relating to it are irresponsible.”

O’Rourke continued to criticize a June 26 article by The Recorder, titled “Proposed Conway search group could violate law.” The story reports on a suggestion by Selectman Bean to form another search group for town administrator that would include the three selectmen. The newspaper reported that this would be another Open Meeting Law violation because no quorum of a parent committee may be on a screening committee, according to the attorney general’s office. No decision or vote was made on the composition of the group.

The search group would look for Majewski-Winn’s replacement. Majewski-Winn moved to Cape Cod with her husband, the former Greenfield fire chief, who has taken a job there.

O’Rourke said the newspaper has “done harm to the town of Conway in our most recent search process.”

He said the town received fewer than half the resumes it did in its last search and that members of the previous search committee have declined to participate in the present search committee.

Selectman Jim Moore agreed with O’Rourke’s statements.

“It seems The Recorder has an attitude against some towns,” Moore said. “We’re continually treated by The Recorder as if we’re guilty. I’m starting to not like this Open Meeting Law. It’d be nice to come to a meeting to discuss town business and take care of that and go home.”

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

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