Northfield Planning Board member files complaint against own board 

  • Northfield Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2022 3:45:47 PM
Modified: 1/27/2022 3:44:30 PM

NORTHFIELD — A member of the Planning Board has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the board after a dispute over the minutes of its Feb. 18, 2021 meeting.

Member Joe Graveline filed the complaint Dec. 3 with the state Attorney General’s Office, claiming the minutes from the meeting have been “incongruent” with the actual content of the meeting and he would like to read Planning Board Clerk Wendy Levy’s handwritten notes from the meeting to compare them. The Planning Board held a short meeting Wednesday to authorize Town Counsel Jeffrey Blake, of KP Law, to issue a response to the complaint.

“Here we are, going through all of this,” Graveline said at Wednesday’s meeting. “It shouldn’t be rocket science that this whole thing could go away if I could just look at those notes.”

Graveline was present at the Feb. 18 board meeting.

Blake told Graveline there is a video of the meeting available, therefore he doesn’t need the handwritten notes, which he described as “cryptic.”

“You have a video tape of it, that’s better than the notes,” Blake said. “Meeting minutes are not a verbatim transcript.”

Graveline said he does “not believe Wendy is the problem,” but claimed the meeting minutes have been “incongruent over and over.”

“What is the validity of the meeting minutes when they keep morphing?” Graveline said. “I have attempted to point this out on a number of occasions, and for some reason I haven’t been allowed to get an answer or make a difference in changing those minutes, and I’m trying to get to the root of what is going on.”

Planning Board Chair Steve Seredynski said Graveline’s complaint stems from the board’s deliberations and vote to approve Pine Meadow Road solar arrays over the course of the year.

“The issue is, Joe, you keep trying to go back to February,” Seredynski said. “You have been beating on our decision, which was 4-1. You’ve been trying to find fault with the Planning Board’s decisions, that’s what this is all about.”

Seredynski noted that Graveline has consistently voted against the majority of the Planning Board.

“Attempts to intimidate the Planning Board are not helpful to getting your point across,” he said.

“I’m speaking my truth as I know it,” Graveline replied. “I don’t do it to intimidate.”

Graveline said in a subsequent interview that he filed the Open Meeting Law complaint because he feels the minutes need to be more detailed to show “transparency” and “accuracy” in what is said at meetings.

“The harder they push to not allow me to take a look at that stuff, the more it bothered me,” he said by phone Thursday. “We can do better than this as a board.”

While meeting minutes don’t have to be verbatim, Graveline said “words are important, they’re really important” and statements made by Planning Board members or applicants should be expanded on.

“If I say something, it’s because I mean it,” Graveline said, “and I’m concerned and I’m trying to do the job right.”

He said this stems from a previous meeting where he took a stand on transparency toward the minutes of the Feb. 18 meeting. The minutes said he “opined” about the minutes, but did not state any specific details, which he said should be included.

Graveline’s complaint is the second filed against the Planning Board in the past year as resident Lisa McLoughlin filed one Oct. 4 about the same Feb. 18, 2021, meeting. The state found the Planning Board “violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to include sufficient detail in the minutes,” according to the state’s Open Meeting Law complaint database.

Blake said he is unable to comment on the matter, but his legal response — which is a public record — will be filed soon. He did say he believes the “Planning Board acted in accordance with the law.”

Graveline said no matter the result, he is trying to stoke conversations about transparency.

“I may not prevail on it,” Graveline said, “but it doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to ask or the right to try.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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