G-M committee vindicated in meeting dispute

Two Gill-Montague Regional School Committee members, and by extension the committee, did not violate the state Open Meeting Law in airing their views in an online forum, the Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

A former member of the district community brought the complaint last year, alleging the two members had violated state law in posting opinions and participating in discussions about committee business on local Internet forum www.montaguema.net.

Stephanie “Taffy” Bassett-Fox, of Greenfield, made the complaint against the committee, naming Montague representatives Michael Langknecht and Jeffrey Singleton, who is no longer a member.

In a letter dated June 4, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic writes that the committee did not violate the law.

The underpinning of the complaint was that while communication between two members does not constitute a meeting — a quorum of five is required for a meeting — the communication was on a publicly accessible message board and therefore could have been viewed by a quorum.

“Although a majority of the Committee’s members could have read the messages on www.montaguema.net, Mr. Langknecht’s and Mr. Singleton’s messages were not directed to a quorum of the Committee,” Sclarsic writes, citing precedent from a 2011 decision.

The complaint in that case was that a quorum of the West Newbury Board of Selectmen participated in a “serial consensus process” outside of an open meeting when two members signed a citizen’s petition relating to an issue they later voted on.

The assistant attorney general in that case, also Sclarsic, found that the two members did not violate the law because they signed the petition separately and any communication between the two — two is a quorum of the board of three, compared to five for the nine-member School Committee — was unintentional.

“They did not sign with the understanding that other Board members would be signing or considering the issue,” Sclarsic wrote in that letter.

In Gill-Montague’s case, Sclarsic found, because the number actively posting on the website did not constitute a quorum and if a quorum was reached it was not intentional, the posting was legal.

The letter closes with a caution that communication on an electronic message board would be considered improper deliberation if engaged in by a quorum of the committee and regarding business within its jurisdiction.

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

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