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Open Meeting Law
The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to eliminate much of the secrecy surrounding the deliberations and decision on which public policy is based... the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action, for without that knowledge people are not able to judge the merits of action taken by their representatives...
Middlesex District Attorney - OML Captain: Loretta Lillios, 617-679-6549
Lawrence Eagle Tribune 11/17/03 - DA Probes Complaint of Closed Meeting - Do "birds of a feather flock together?"
Hopefully, Lawrence Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy (member, Board of Directors, Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative) has not been getting advice on Open Meeting Law from former Reading Superintendent of Schools (and GLEC Chairman) Harry Harutunian.
During Harutunian's reign, the Reading School Committee regularly listed ALL (not one or two at a time... all) "nine exceptions" as reasons to hold closed-door, executive session meetings. Suspicious "five-minute breaks" and off-camera discussions were commonplace and citizens regularly filed complaints with the Middlesex District Attorney's office (who ignored them). Minutes of Harutunian-era executive session meetings were withheld from the public for years, long after their "reasons" for secrecy had passed (and some minutes are still unreleased! see past News entries, Harry Harutunian, Open Meeting Law).
The Essex County DA is different; they can and do investigate both murders and OML violations at the same time.
05/22/03 - Reading School Superintendent Interview Process Continues Behind Closed Doors
After approximately 50 applicants (allegedly) had been screened, Reading's Superintendent Search Committee held (in executive session) interviews of superintendent candidates in the Superintendent's Conference Room on May 19, May 21 and May 22. The Search Committee plans to present 4 finalists to School Committee May 27 for them to interview in public.
Questions continue to be raised about the secretive process and absence of any evidence that the School Committee has been following official policy. Complaints have been filed [.pdf download, 1.18 MB] with the Middlesex District Attorney. The most recent "policy" supposedly being followed is a version of a 1987 Reading School Committee Process for Selecting a Superintendent. Again, many discrepancies exist between the ongoing search process and the 1987 "policy" version. It appears that the School Committee and its subcommittee are currently doing whatever they want; the public be damned.
School Superintendent Search Committee members appointed: (Advocate 04/17/03) One of the last official acts of outgoing School Committee Chairman William Griset was to quietly, outside of public meetings, select and appoint his choices for the 11 member superintendent search committee, a subcommittee of the School Committee. His appointments include his sister-in-law / Campaign Manager Gael Phillips-Spence and, filling the two community member slots, Town Accountant Richard Foley and former Finance Committee Chair Carol Grimm.
1. The appointment of a relative to an influential position, paid or not, raises questions, heightened by the fact that these appointments were accomplished through a closed door process.
2. Under changes implemented during outgoing School Superintendent Harutunian's tenure, the Town Accountant works directly for the school superintendent. In filling community slots with people employed by the Town or who have had significant interests on Town boards, Griset defeats the purpose of the two slots: to provide perspective from the community-at-large.
3. Some of Griset's selections are not Reading residents and, as employees, they might be inclined to serve their own interests over the best interests of the community.
Apparently new School Committee Chair Harvey "Pete" Dahl (Advocate 04/17/03) believes the search committee, as a subcommittee of the School Committee, need not post its meetings. Though Dahl maintains the meetings will be open to the public, even though the meetings are not posted, how is the public to know the time and location of these "open" School Superintendent search meetings?
Posting on the Town Bulletin Board of public meetings at least 48 hours in advance is required by Reading Charter (Sect. 8-10 Procedures of Multiple-Member Bodies) and the Open Meeting Law likewise requires posting, defining governmental bodies as " every board, commission, committee or subcommittee of any district, city, region or town, however elected, appointed or otherwise constituted..." The Superintendent Search Committee is a subcommittee of a governmental body, the School Committee, and therefore falls under the requirements of the Open Meeting Law. Their meetings should be posted.
In ignoring the need for an open process, are Reading officials laying the groundwork to insure the selection of a predetermined candidate for the next School Superintendent?
Please right-click, "Save Target As" to download the linked files on this page.
A 1995 newspaper article and a page from 1993 Middlesex County Open Meeting Law guidelines referencing Witwicki v. Beverly School Committee - [.pdf document, 120 KB] Harutunian's conflicts with open meeting law began long before he was Superintendent in Reading. Note Beverly Assistant Superintendent whose contract was "invalidated."
Anthony Witwicki and others vs. Beverly School Committee [.pdf download, 256 KB] - The 01/04/93 decision and order from Superior Court Justice David M. Roseman rescinding Harutunian's illegally negotiated contract and forcing the Beverly School Committee to fully comply with the open meeting law in future proceedings.
"For reasons discussed below, the court concludes that the session was convened in violation of the statute and that the action taken there must be rescinded... "
Read the 1992 Salem News article "School officials defend secret vote, payraise" [.pdf, 60.9 KB] that revealed the deceptive action to the public.
"School officials Tuesday defended their closed-door vote earlier this year to give Assistant Superintendent Harutunian an 11-percent salary increase, a decision that has angered teachers who saw their own raises cancelled."
Read the 06/29/92 executive session minutes [.pdf, 63.7 KB] in which the Beverly School Committee went into executive session "for the purpose of discussing strategies relative to collective bargaining" but then secretly voted to give Beverly Assistant Superintendent Harry Harutunian an 11 percent salary increase.
Open meeting violations remain "business as usual" for Superintendent Harutunian's school committees. During Harutunian's reign in Reading, the Reading School Committee regularly listed ALL (not one or two at a time... all) "nine exceptions" as reasons to hold closed-door, executive session meetings. Rarely would they actually state specific reasons for their private meetings, citing only the exception categories.
Suspicious five minute breaks and off-camera discussions were also commonplace and citizens frequently filed complaints with the Middlesex District Attorney's office (who ignored them). Minutes from Harutunian-era executive session meetings were withheld from the public for years, long after the "reasons" for secrecy had passed. To this day, many Harutunian-era executive session minutes remain unreleased.
Superintendent Harutunian is fully aware of open meeting law requirements and the rights of citizens to public information. Yet, the Reading School Committee made a practice of flagrantly and repeatedly violating the open meeting law throughout his tenure as Superintendent. Quite appropriately, Harutunian capped off his time in Reading with a $7,500 "merit payment" bonus, apparently approved by the Reading School Committee in executive session.
Parting Shot - A $7,500 "merit payment" bonus for Harutunian, apparently voted by School Committee in Executive Session in February prior to the RMHS Project Override, was paid in his last check in June 2003. School Committee did NOT conduct a performance review this year and the executive session minutes / record of this action still have not been released (as of November 19, 2003). This merit payment / bonus is the maximum allowed in Harutunian's 2002 - 2003 contract, "subject to continued good performance as judged by the School Committee."
May 27, 2003 - Superintendent Search Report [.mp3 audio, 3.21 MB download]
Superintendent Search Committee Chairman Carol Grimm describes the closed door process the School Committee Subcommittee followed to arrive at the three finalist candidates: Reading Associate Superintendent Dennis Richards, former Lexington Superintendent Patricia Ruane and Natick Assistant Superintendent Patrick Schettini (formerly Assist. Principal at Reading Memorial High School).
Not only did the Reading Superintendent Search Committee create the "policy" and process they followed as they went along but, from Chairman Grimm's description, that process appears to have been in direct conflict with existing Open Meeting Law.
Regarding Search Processes and Executive Sessions, the Middlesex District Attorney's Open Meeting Law Guidelines" August 1993, p. 34:
"...an executive session may be permitted during the preliminary stages, prior to selection of semi-finalists, under exemption (7) and the privacy law, G.L. c. 214, S 1B. In either case, only the actual consideration of candidates may be conducted in executive session: other matters, such as the hiring process, criteria for selecting candidates, or recruiting strategies must be discussed publicly."
Hamilton-Wenham School Committee conducts illegal closed meetings (Salem News, 04/09/03). Essex County district attorney's office finds school committee repeatedly misrepresented reasons for moving into executive session during their School Superintendent search process last year. Numerous blatant violations occurred while working behind closed doors with superintendent search consultant Lyle Kirtman (Future Management Services), the same search consultant Reading hired to replace Superintendent Harutunian.
Business as usual?
Hamilton-Wenham School Committee/Open Meeting Law: Salem News 02/07/03 Complaint with 04/02/03 Opinion by Essex County Assistant District Attorney Tom Donovan. [.pdf download, 189 KB]