AG’s office: Montague Board of Assessors violated Open Meeting Law

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 03-09-2023 1:58 PM

MONTAGUE — The Attorney General’s Office has determined that members of the Board of Assessors violated the Open Meeting Law when they met in October 2022.

The determination, announced in a letter to Montague Director of Assessing Karen Tonelli, was made in response to two separate complaints from resident Chris Pinardi, who alleged that the board violated the law by deliberating outside of a posted meeting and by not discussing a posted agenda topic.

Assistant Attorney General Mary Nguyen wrote that while the latter claim did not substantiate a violation, the former was deemed “impermissible.” While the Attorney General’s Office considers the matter “resolved” and levied no penalty, the office advised that “a similar violation in the future may be considered evidence of intent to violate the Open Meeting Law.”

Pinardi said he observed the violation when he arrived at the meeting room around 10 minutes early and found that the board was already engaged in discussion.

“The complainant states that he witnessed the discussion and a property card being viewed,” Nguyen recapped. “He could not, however, hear what was being discussed and states that the conversation ended shortly after he arrived.”

“The fact is that I walked in 10 minutes early, they were already in a discussion and the paperwork they were discussing came from the pile they were discussing that day,” Pinardi said in a phone interview, noting that the board was “clearly discussing something that had to do with assessing.”

Pinardi said he began attending Board of Assessors meetings in 2022 following a dispute in which Pinardi alleges the board inaccurately assessed his mother’s land — a 0.43-acre parcel on Chestnut Hill Loop classified under the state’s Chapter 61 forest management program. This, he said, prompted him to attend the board’s meetings to observe how they conduct business. Pinardi’s persistence has amounted to more than a year filled with “petty and unjustified criticism,” according to Tonelli. 

Tonelli argues the Open Meeting Law complaint is similarly nonsensical.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

As emergency action plan is crafted, Tree House to maintain 1,500 capacity for summer
$50K allocated for Poet’s Seat Tower sandblasting as officials mull vandalism prevention
New owners look to build on Thomas Memorial Golf & Country Club’s strengths
Orange man gets 12 to 14 years for child rape
Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: What’s ahead for Greg Carvel’s crew?
Psalm 23: The message of the shepherd

“The board members were simply reviewing photographs, which are — and have been — available to the public on our website slideshow,” Tonelli wrote in an email. “No decisions or deliberations were made.”

The Open Meeting Law defines deliberation as “an oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction,” with the exception of “distribution of a meeting agenda, scheduling information, or distribution of reports or documents that may be discussed at a meeting, provided that no opinion of a member is expressed.”

“We find that the discussion — real estate price trends in Montague — between the three board members and director of assessors does not fit within any of the enumerated exemptions to the definition of deliberation and was a matter within the board’s jurisdiction,” Nguyen wrote. “The board believes it did not violate the Open Meeting Law because ‘no specific details about the properties were discussed and no changes or other actions to the property cards were discussed, decided upon or made.’ We disagree.”

Continuing, Nguyen emphasized that the “definition of ‘deliberation’ is not limited to opinion or decision-making communications.”

“Based upon the recent Attorney General’s Office’s decision, no talk of real estate whatsoever can take place between assessors outside a meeting,” Tonelli wrote. “We believe this is not practical and it does not serve any transparency to the public. This may sound good in theory, but in practice, it is ridiculous and this decision shows that the Attorney General’s Office is not very knowledgeable about assessing practices.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

]]>