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THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL


ONE ASHBURTON PLACE
B OSTON, M ASSACHUSETTS 0 2 1 0 8
MARTHA COAKLEY

(617) 727-2200

ATTORNEY GENERAL

www.mass.gov/ago

December 1, 2014
OML 2014-139
Regina Tate, Esq.
Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP
Crown Colony Plaza
300 Crown Colony Drive
Suite 410
Quincy, MA 02169
RE:

Open Meeting Law Complaint

Dear Attorney Tate:


This office received a complaint from Mr. Thomas Flittie, dated October 14, alleging that
the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee (the "Committee") violated the Open Meeting
Law, G.L. c. 30A, 18-25.' The complaint was originally filed with the Committee on August
12, and the Committee responded to Mr. Flittie's complaint by letter dated August 27. In his
complaint, Mr. Flittie alleges that the Committee held a meeting without providing sufficient
notice to the public.
Following our review, we find that the Committee violated the Open Meeting Law. In
reaching a determination, we reviewed the original complaint; the Committee's response; the
request for further review filed with our office; and the meeting notice and minutes from a
Committee meeting held on July 14. Finally, we reviewed a video recording of the July 14
meeting.
FACTS
We find the facts as follows. The Committee is a nine-member public body responsible
for the operation of schools serving the residents of Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett.
On July 9, Committee member Trevor Baptiste sent to all four town clerks a notice for a special
Committee meeting to be held on July 14. The agenda listed only one item for discussion:
"Statement on School Equity task force controversy (vote)." Just a few minutes later, Committee
Chair Lawrence O'Brien e-mailed the four clerks, stating that the previous meeting notice was
sent in error. This e-mail went on to state, "There will not be a meeting on that date and the

Unless otherwise specified, all dates in this letter refer to the year 2014,

posting should be removed." Shortly after he sent this e-mail to the clerks. Chair O'Brien sent
an e-mail to the other Committee members. In that second e-mail. Chair O'Brien stated that,
pursuant to advice he had received from the Committee's legal counsel, only the Committee
Chair could call a special meeting. Shortly thereafter, Amherst's Assistant Town Clerk e-mailed
Chair O'Brien to say that she had "canceled the meeting." In the other three towns, notice for
the July 14 meeting was posted on July 9 and was not subsequently removed.
On July 10, Chair O'Brien again e-mailed the Committee stating that he stood by the
cancellation of the meeting, and he forwarded a memo from the Committee's legal counsel
stating that only the Chair may call a special meeting. Later that day, Mr. Baptiste e-mailed the
group stating that any Committee member had a right to call a meeting, and that the meeting
would still be held as scheduled. On July 11, the legal counsel for the Town of Amherst sent an
opinion to the Committee stating that only the Chair has the authority to call a special meeting.
On July 12, Chair O'Brien e-mailed the Committee stating that he continued to consider the
meeting to be cancelled.
On July 14, notwithstanding the e-mails from Chair O'Brien and others, Mr. Baptiste
convened a special meeting of the Committee. Five of the nine Committee members, a quorum
of the public body, were present. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Committee members
present voted to disavow a letter of reprimand that had previously been sent to one of the
Committee members. The Committee members present stated that the reprimand "should not be
interpreted as representing the opinions of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee."
DISCUSSION
The Open Meeting Law was enacted "to eliminate much of the secrecy surrounding
deliberations and decisions on which public policy is based." Ghiglione v. School Committee of
Southbridge, 376 Mass. 70, 72 (1978). The law requires that meetings of a public body be
properly noticed and open to the public, unless an executive session is convened. See G.L. c.
3OA, 20(a)-(b), 21. The Open Meeting Law defines a "meeting" as "a deliberation by a
public body with respect to any matter within the body's jurisdiction." G.L. c. 30A, 18. A
"deliberation" is defined 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." Id. Therefore, all communications between or among a quorum of the members
of a public body must take place in a properly noticed open meeting. Regional school
committees must post notice 48 hours in advance of a meeting in each city and town within the
district in the manner prescribed for local public bodies in that city or town. See G.L. c. 30A,
20(c); 940 CMR 29.03(2). However, regional school committees may choose an alternative
posting method, such as posting to the regional school district website. See 940 CMR
29.03(4)(b).
The Committee has not adopted its website as its official posting location. Therefore, we
find that because a quorum of the Committee met without posting notice of the meeting in all
four towns that compose the district, the requirements of the Open Meeting Law were not met.
Mr. Baptiste sent the meeting notice to the four town clerks around 2:15 p.m. on July 9, and the
e-mail from Amherst's Assistant Town Clerk stating that she was canceling the meeting came
around 3:30 p.m. The greatest amount of time for which it could conceivably have been posted
in Amherst is therefore approximately 75 minutes. While it appears that the meeting notice
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remained posted in Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett, the citizens of Amherst did not receive
sufficient notice of the meeting. Because the citizens of Amherst lacked notice of the meeting,
we find that the July 14 meeting violated the Open Meeting Law. See McCrea v. Flaherty, 71
Mass. App. Ct. 637, 650 (2008) ("the notice requirement contained in the statute is an essential
attribute of the law; it is manifestly pointless to conduct a meeting to which the law requires
public access if no member of the public is aware that the meeting is taking place").
We recognize that a dispute existed as to who had authority to convene a meeting. The
Open Meeting Law is silent on who has the authority to call meetings. We therefore take no
position on whether Mr. Baptiste was authorized to convene the special meeting of July 14.
However, regardless of who has the authority to convene a meeting, a quorum of a public body
may not meet unless the meeting is properly noticed.
CONCLUSION
For the reasons stated above, we find that the Committee violated the Open Meeting Law.
We order immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law and we caution that
similar future violations may be considered evidence of intent to violate the Open Meeting Law.
We now consider the complaint addressed by this determination to be resolved. This
determination does not address any other complaints that may be pending with our office or the
Committee. Please feel free to contact the Division at (617) 963 - 2540 if you have any
questions.
Sincerely,

Kevin W. Manganaro
Assistant Attorney General
Division of Open Government
cc:

Mr. Thomas Flittie


Amherst-Pelham Regional School District

This determination was issued pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, 23(c). A public body or any
member of a body aggrieved by this order may obtain judicial review through an action
filed in Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, 23(d). The complaint must be filed in
Superior Court within twenty one days of receipt of this order.