School board continue to wrestle over Open Meeting Law

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2019 7:03:31 AM

GREENFIELD — Resident Paul Jablon is requesting the Attorney General’s Office to further review his Open Meeting Law complaint with the School Committee, after feeling the response he received was less than satisfactory. 

Jablon, a member of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, first filed a complaint May 2 about the committee’s apparent failure to follow laws that are set to ensure public officials discuss things in public. He cited several emails he acquired and pointed most squarely at Greenfield School Committee member Susan Hollins, the former superintendent. 

The Attorney General’s Office informed committee members it would not come specifically to Greenfield in the coming weeks to provide training because it was going to give a similar session in Amherst, according to Jablon and committee members. None of the members attended that meeting, which left Jablon requesting for the state to get involved. 

Previously, Jablon said he wanted more transparency from the committee on its decisions because he said he feels that “it’s a con now.” 

Hollins and School Committee Chair Adrienne Nunez have publicly acknowledged violations of the Open Meeting Law and have pledged to seek guidance. 

At the committee’s most recent meeting, which held last week in part to discuss what to do with a $700,000 shortfall in its budget from what the City Council approved, members discussed the next steps with addressing Open Meeting Law. 

The five members present, including Nunez, Hollins, agreed at least some additional training was necessary for some. 

“There’s a story that’s being told of School Committee members equally being in need of education and training on this topic,” recently appointed member Glenn Johnson said. “That’s really not the case. Some people are getting it and some people are not.”

Most said they wanted to meet in person and as a group, as opposed to doing training online or individually.

Hollins said the committee has received “misinformation” on the Open Meeting Law. 

“You can shake your head, but I will take it from transcripts and provide it for you and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong,” Hollins said at the meeting; Superintendent Jordana Harper was shaking her head.  

“From the conversations I’ve had,” with the Attorney General’s Office, Hollins said, “there are systemic issues in how we function that contribute to people communicating and I think we’re going to have to address that if were going to have a successful public body.” 

The committee plans on gathering for an information session with a group, like the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, to further educate the group on the laws. 

Hollins personally followed up with the mayor in an email sent Friday, encouraging Martin to call for open meeting training for all city officials — and it “may also be helpful to include our newspaper reporters who write opinion pieces about the ethic of open government and specific rules for Open Meeting.”

“I have been in situations where a member of a public body violated a rule because what was happening was not ethical,” Hollins wrote personally to the mayor. “The big picture of having an honest government and where the public is fully informed what its government is doing sometimes is lost in the discussion of rule details. It's important not to lose sight of the ethic which rules attempt to codify and also how the rules in place can be used to assure the public does not have information.”

Martin replied that he has invited city officials and it could happen by this fall or next spring.

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