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G-M Open Meeting Law complaints heard

TURNERS FALLS — The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee has decided two open meeting law complaints related to a Jan. 3 meeting, one questioning the legality of the meeting, the other the legality of a complaint about the meeting.

Committee member Marjorie Levenson read a statement at a Jan. 8 meeting that a Jan. 3 gathering contained deliberation and therefore violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.

The Jan. 3 meeting was billed as training, which is among the exceptions to the open meeting law otherwise requiring meetings be posted in advance and open to the public.

After hearing about the controversy, The Recorder filed a complaint about the possible open meeting violation to seek clarity on the issue from the attorney general. Such complaints first go to the alleged offending board to address and are then reviewed by the AG.

The complaint brought by The Recorder was heard in closed session. Coming out of executive session, the committee announced a unanimous decision that there may or may not have been a violation Jan. 3 and to post meetings in future if there is a chance of a violation.

In a unusual twist, member Michael Langknecht complained that Levenson’s allegation of an open meeting law violation against her board Jan. 3 constituted an open meeting law violation because the complaint was not made in the manner prescribed by the law, which includes 48 hours advance notice to individuals if a complaint is to be made about them at a public meeting.

Langknecht named Levenson and Sandra Brown, who had supported Levenson’s complaint at the Jan. 8 meeting. At that meeting the committee voted 7-2 to strike Levenson’s complaint from the record after Langknecht raised the open meeting law concerns.

Phillips said she had allowed the complaint to be read at the earlier meeting because she did not recognize it as a possible violation.

Russell Dupere, the school district’s lawyer, told the committee that Levenson’s complaint and the committee’s hearing of the complaint were both likely technical violations of the law.

“Do I feel either one is truly egregious? No,” Dupere said, adding the offense would be egregious if repeated in future.

Levenson said she was trying to be courteous to the committee in not filing a formal complaint but wanted to encourage openness and had worked hard not to identify any individuals in the statement.

Langknecht said the statement was full of insinuations and individuals could be identified by anyone familiar with the district committee and process.

“It seemed to impugn the superintendent, the chair of the School Committee, business office and members of the School Committee at the same time,” Langknecht said.

According to Dupere, whether individuals were named is a moot point.

Dupere said a complaint is against all members of the committee, whether or not any are named.

Langknecht requested that either the complaint be made properly, or withdrawn with apologies to all aggrieved parties, according to Dupere.

On Dupere’s recommendation, the committee resolved that there were technical violations in the way the compliant was made and heard and the committee will follow the process in the future. The motion passed with Brown and Levenson opposed and Langknecht abstaining.

Dupere also advised the committee to consider developing a policy to handle complaints other than the Open Meeting Law process.

“This isn’t collaborative and maybe the response isn’t collaborative,” Dupere said. “You really need to think about the way you’re operating.”

Dupere said there were at least two ways Levenson could have made the initial complaint: a formal Open Meeting Law complaint, which he said might have been overkill in that instance, or starting a general discussion about what meetings should be posted and open.

The committee voted earlier in the evening not to hear a separate complaint brought by Langknecht against Sandra Brown.

Dupere said that complaint was not an Open Meeting Law complaint.

Allen Tupper Brown, Sandra Brown’s husband and representing her for the hearing, said the complaint related to a conversation outside a meeting between his wife and Langknecht and asked the committee to elect not to hear it.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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