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Thread: Is the website WaylandSchoolCommittee.org legal and appropriate?

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As has always been my intention, and as I have said several times of late, when I leave the Wayland School Committee (WSC) for whatever reason, the domain www.waylandschoolcommittee.org will belong to the Committee, just as it does now.
    Well, to "belong to the committee" in spirit, is one thing.
    But, the reality is, the URL is registered in your name. You own it, not the Committee. You are the sole owner of the URL.
    Who would take care to transfer ownership of the name, and to whom would it be transferred?

    Also realistically, who would maintain and update it?
    As far as I know, the only current member that has both the skill and the interest in doing that is you.

    Would Louis go on there and upload new information to the site? Or would Heather, Barb or Deb regularly update and maintain the site, as you have?


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The WSC site no more "circumvents the law" than does, well, providing stickers to voters to facilitate a write-in campaign for public office, to cite just one example pulled randomly from the air.
    Bad example, Jeff.
    The stickers that Jeff Baron used, which of course you "randomly pulled from the air", were not only legal, but they are encouraged.
    As you know, a write-in candidate is at a severe disadvantage by not having his/her name on the ballot. One way they are allowed to even come close to having a fair chance against candidates whose names are imprinted on the ballot, is to have pre-printed stickers which help all parties concerned to ensure that the name is legible and correctly spelled.

    A better example would be Cynthia's Cheat Sheet - the list of who and what to vote for that was widely circulated by individuals, where care was taken not to imprint the name of the organization that Cynthia is a leader in, on the sheet itself.
    While perhaps legal, this could easily be perceived as circumventing the law, because the same cheat sheets would have been illegal if the organization's name were imprinted on them and many of the individuals handing them out were widely known around town as volunteers of the organization.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Jeff, you chastised me for not doing research on sticker campaigns, but I'll decline to return the favor except to say that my post above is not my personal opinion, but rather references the OCPF's written ruling.
    First off, you didn't do the research on the stickers. You had to know I had triple checked every item of this.

    Secondly, Jeff, your posting is YOUR interpretation of the OCPF's general ruling. I read it and don't agree with your interpretation, necessarily. I read that and think that either this doesn't apply because they are discussing a ballot question committee (not an elected committee), or that if it does apply, then anti-override groups need to be afforded the same linking opportunity as the SC. I don't know which, if either, is the correct intepretation. They also specify much longer disclaimers than what is on the Wayland Public School site. A specific OCPF ruling would clear this up.I'm asking for a specific ruling on the WSC website. See below for why.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The OCPF allows publicly funded sites to link to ballot question committee web sites, subject to several conditions that do not apply to non-ballot question committee web sites. [IB-04-01, II.A., p.3, 2nd paragraph under II.A.]
    Quoting from this linked document:

    In Anderson, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that a municipality could not appropriate or use municipal funds or use other municipal resources to influence an election. The court concluded, however, that a municipality or other governmental entity could, under limited circumstances, make certain public resources available to private groups for election-related activities, such as a meeting room at town hall provided that “equal access,” upon request, must be afforded to any other group on the same terms regardless of the group’s point of view.

    Consequently, a governmental entity may, for the purpose of promoting voter education and participation, provide links on its website to candidate or committee websites if equal access is provided for all other candidates or committees. OCPF has advised, however, that a disclaimer should be included on the governmental website stating that: (1) the links to candidate sites are provided by the candidates and that neither the URL (Web address) nor the site have been reviewed for content or accuracy; (2) the links are displayed for voter information purposes and the municipality, by posting the
    links, is not attempting to influence the nomination or election of any candidate or committee; (3) the candidate or committee websites are not monitored or regulated by the municipality; and (4) the links are available to any candidate or committee. See AO-96-04, AO-99-14, and AO-01-29.

    A governmental website, other than a restricted website as discussed below, may provide a link to a candidate or committee website even if the candidate or committee website contains campaign material, i.e., it solicits contributions, votes or volunteers. A governmental entity may also refuse to post a link or may remove a link once it is posted if it is done in accordance with an approved policy that ensures that all persons and groups, regardless of political view, have equal access (or equal lack of access) to the website and are treated uniformly. See AO-00-15.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Moreover, the OCPF allows publicly funded sites to include "information and endorsements" regarding a ballot question as long as the information/endorsements are not sent unsolicited. [IB-92-02, I.G, p.4]
    OK, not really arguing this point. Not sure how this applies to the website question.

  3. #18
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    At last night's meeting, Jeff Dieffenbach answered the question from another SC member about how other towns do their School Committee websites, with a simple, "I don't know".

    So, I got curious.
    Using the list of peer communities that appears on Wayland's SC website as a reference, I visited each of them (Listed Here) and found that ALL of them - every single one, without exception - is maintained by, sponsored by, owned by, and paid for by that town's school department.

    In each case, the site is not just linked from, but also rooted to the school's website, i.e. they share the same root directory on the server.

    So, why is Wayland doing it differently?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    John, you are right about the peer towns having sites hosted on their town websites. It wouldn't surprise me, however, if some of these other towns were perhaps violating the OCPF rules from time to time (and simply have not been called on it).

    As an example, see this article on Harvard's School Committee possibly going farther over the line than Charlie Schlegel did (this case is newer than Wayland's, and I could not find an OCPF ruling on it yet- so they could surprise me): http://www.nashobapublishing.com/harvard/ci_9683783

    The truth is that the OCPF guidelines are murky and sometimes seem quite arbitrary and even counter to what should be the goal of having an educated population make important decisions. That said, it is important to abide by the law, and I was glad to hear of the seriousness with which the School Committee took the campaign finance laws issue. The two steps I recall them discussing last night were: more education of staff regarding the laws, and having Dr. Burton review any communications related to budgets or overrides before they goes out.

    As for the website, I thought Jeff D. pretty thoroughly explained their rationale - that it enabled them to make changes more quickly, to lessen the burden on (taxpayer paid) staff, and to enable them to (as a small piece of what they do, but when needed) advocate for the schools via opt-in emails. He made it clear that the vast majority of what they do would be fine on a town-run site. And in fact, the other sites I saw (and I looked at several, too) appear to have much the same information as is on ours - though I found the Wayland School Committee site to contain more detailed information and be more useful.

    I don't know who will run the site if or when Jeff D. decides not to do it. Certainly there is no requirement that Jeff D. be a School Committee member to run the site. The information on the site is also clearly does not belong to "Jeff", as the School Committee agrees everything that goes on it. So Jeff could continue to run the site until he no longer wishes to continue volunteering, or until the School Committee opts to look for another volunteer. I am certain they could find one.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 07-08-2008 at 10:46 AM. Reason: to note that the OCPF has not yet ruled in Harvard's case

  5. #20
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    Kim,

    You and I both operate and maintain websites.
    And we both know that the "burden on the staff" argument just doesn't fly.
    How long does it take to upload a PDF, for example?

    As to changes to the site happening quickly, that's only as quickly as Jeff's schedule will allow. There have been times when it wasn't at all quick, where days or weeks would go by before minutes were posted.

    Having it managed by the school would allow for other staff members to take over in the event that someone is out sick or too busy.

    You say Jeff doesn't have to be a SC member in order to run it.
    But that would be just weird! And totally inappropriate.

    If the OCPF guidelines are "murky & arbitrary", wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of caution, and not do anything that even had the appearance of impropriety?


    As I said, EVERY SINGLE ONE of our peer communities has their SC website as part of their school website. Why should we do it differently?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  6. #21
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    John, maintaining a website that has ongoing changes is a huge undertaking, and I am often surprised by just how much time I spend on mine. I have run a website which was on the school site for some time (The Children's Way). There were delays in uploading new information (note that I had to provide them HTML which I had written- which meant as soon as it was ready, I could have uploaded it, but there was always some delay before it actually was uploaded - and if we needed to upload something on a weekend, which we sometimes did when there were events, it simply didn't happen. I ended up developing an off-site website, which the schools linked to. After my youngest child left Children's Way nobody took it over, and the site was slurped back onto the school site).

    If you see delays sometime now, these would persist if the school ran the site, because they would still need to be provided with the information before they could upload it.

    Why would it be weird or inappropriate for someone who is not a member of the school committee, but just a dedicated volunteer, be any weirder than some other non-School Committee member (like the school's technology staff) doing it? I'd be happy to do it. Maybe you would. Why would that be weird? Whoever does it would be at the direction of the School Committee.

    Since the OCPF guidelines are murky, it was totally appropriate for Jeff D. to call and discuss them with the OCPF as he did. So I would call that appropriate caution. It sounds like continuing it on the school site would require MORE ongoing caution, and would put them (as perhaps all of our peer towns currently are?) at ongoing risk.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Since the OCPF guidelines are murky, it was totally appropriate for Jeff D. to call and discuss them with the OCPF as he did. So I would call that appropriate caution. It sounds like continuing it on the school site would require MORE ongoing caution, and would put them (as perhaps all of our peer towns currently are?) at ongoing risk.
    Kim, he needs to get a written opinion from the OCPF. Nobody was party to the phone conversation, nobody knows what questions were asked, and nobody can confirm anything. There is a certain lack of trust in relation to SC matters these days amongst some in the community, and a belt and suspenders approach to complying with the law should be the modus operendi.

    I'm not implying anything insidious here, by the way. It may all be fine, it may not, but if it is, there should be no problem in seeking the written opinion of the OCPF. I think it was Lisa V, last night who said in public comment that they are happy to review and provide opinion. Why wouldn't the SC do this?

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    Kim to compare what you do, i.e. the WaylandeNews site to the SC site is really a stretch.
    You do a great job with WaylandeNews, and because of the nature of the site, it requires ongoing updating, tweaking and linking. It is a massive undertaking and you do a terrific job with it.

    Compare that to a site for a committee which only meets every couple of weeks and whose typical updates are nothing more than posting agendas and meetings. There is NO comparison.

    From your last sentence, it sounds like you're saying we're doing it right, while the other 15 towns have all got it wrong. They should do what we do.

    I don't think so.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    Kim, he needs to get a written opinion from the OCPF... I think it was Lisa V, last night who said in public comment that they are happy to review and provide opinion. Why wouldn't the SC do this?
    Jeff B., I have spoken with the OCPF before to get legal opinions. I suspect this is what Lisa was referring to. They encourage people to call them with questions. I do not believe they expect to produce a written opinion with every phone call. I will confess, however, I don't know what their protocol is for when they put their opinions in writing (though they retain the option not to provide one if they don't want to). Though Jeff D does seem to have already referenced several of their relevant written opinions, it would be nice to have a written opinion, if possible.

    How are our peer communities doing? How about this finding against peer community Sherborn: 06-18: Sherborn School Committee. Did not comply (use of public resources to distribute information to voters); 05/25/06. A school committee used the Pine Hill School's server and e-mail list to send an e-mail advocating for passage of an override. Public resources, namely the school server, the e-mail list and the time of the school staff, were used to distribute the document.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 07-08-2008 at 01:07 PM. Reason: added example

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Kim to compare what you do, i.e. the WaylandeNews site to the SC site is really a stretch.
    :-) Actually, John, it was you who noted: "You and I both operate and maintain websites. And we both know that the "burden on the staff" argument just doesn't fly. How long does it take to upload a PDF, for example?"

    I was merely responding to that, indicating that it is not trivial to maintain a website.


    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    From your last sentence, it sounds like you're saying we're doing it right, while the other 15 towns have all got it wrong. They should do what we do. I don't think so.
    It is very possible that the other towns should be doing what we're doing, and that they do violate OCPF laws (it's impossible to tell from the websites, really - I think it's primarily the emails that would be the problem and we can't see those just looking at the website - I'm not sure you'd find anything on the Wayland SC website that would be law-breaking if posted on the town website).

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    You do a great job with WaylandeNews, and because of the nature of the site, it requires ongoing updating, tweaking and linking. It is a massive undertaking and you do a terrific job with it.
    BTW, should have noted: thanks for the compliment! :-)

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Kim,

    You and I both operate and maintain websites.
    And we both know that the "burden on the staff" argument just doesn't fly.
    How long does it take to upload a PDF, for example?
    I don't agree with your characterization of web site maintenance. It's something of a "death by a thousand cuts" task--any given change may be quick, but time is required to write, edit, post, and test. The most time-consuming aspect of the WSC site is the distribution of our electronic newsletter, which is certainly a lot more than the uploading of a PDF.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    As to changes to the site happening quickly, that's only as quickly as Jeff's schedule will allow. There have been times when it wasn't at all quick, where days or weeks would go by before minutes were posted.
    The WSC does not post minutes on its web site. As for my schedule, there have been vanishingly few times when I haven't been able to post something promptly.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    You say Jeff doesn't have to be a SC member in order to run it.
    But that would be just weird! And totally inappropriate.
    Weird and inappropriate in what way? The decisions are made by the Committee, in open meeting. My role is technical/clerical. Having a volunteer serve as web master is essentially no different than the fine service that volunteers including Richard Turner, Ken Isaacson, and others provide for WayCAM.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    As I said, EVERY SINGLE ONE of our peer communities has their SC website as part of their school website. Why should we do it differently?
    Repeat after me: Because it's more convenient. Because it doesn't place burden on the staff. Because it doesn't violate the law.

    It's certainly valid to look at what other districts do, but if there are reasons to think outside the box, there's no reason not to go a different direction.

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Well, to "belong to the committee" in spirit, is one thing.
    But, the reality is, the URL is registered in your name. You own it, not the Committee. You are the sole owner of the URL.
    Who would take care to transfer ownership of the name, and to whom would it be transferred?

    Also realistically, who would maintain and update it?
    As far as I know, the only current member that has both the skill and the interest in doing that is you.

    Would Louis go on there and upload new information to the site? Or would Heather, Barb or Deb regularly update and maintain the site, as you have?
    People's fascination with who registered waylandschoolcommittee.org baffles me. Yes, I initially registered it. I don't know if it would have been possible to register on behalf of the Committee, but I would have no objection to it being registered in that way.

    As for training one of the other members to maintain the site, I have no doubts that any of them could master the task fairly easily.

  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    Kim, he needs to get a written opinion from the OCPF. Nobody was party to the phone conversation, nobody knows what questions were asked, and nobody can confirm anything. There is a certain lack of trust in relation to SC matters these days amongst some in the community, and a belt and suspenders approach to complying with the law should be the modus operendi.

    I'm not implying anything insidious here, by the way. It may all be fine, it may not, but if it is, there should be no problem in seeking the written opinion of the OCPF. I think it was Lisa V, last night who said in public comment that they are happy to review and provide opinion. Why wouldn't the SC do this?
    Your "not implying anything insidious" assertion notwithstanding, the "average Wayland resident" whom you've constructed would be forgiven for inferring that you're implying exactly that.

    At risk of dragging up tired and unfounded charges again, I'm proud to state that my trustworthiness is fully intact. People may have reasonably disagreed with my decision-making and it's underlying process, but I've done nothing but be open, honest, and forthright in my School Committee service.

    My Monday 7/7 conversation with Greg Birne went exactly as I related it at last night's School Committee meeting. During that conversation, I asked for him to respond in writing. He did so late Monday afternoon--I did not have time to consider his response prior to our meeting. Here's the full text of my written question to him (in blue), and his response back to me (in green).

    From: Jeff Dieffenbach
    Sent: Monday, July 07, 2008 9:45 AM
    To: Birne, Gregory (CPF)
    Cc: Louis Jurist; Gary Burton
    Subject: WSC: Inquiry regarding OCPF-IB-04-01, links from a publicly-funded web site

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks for taking the time to speak with me this morning about CPF-IB-04-01.

    Section II.A. of that IB concerns the ability of publicly funded web sites to link to private sites of political candidates and/or ballot question committees. That section allows such links as long as all candidates and/or ballot question committees are allowed the same access.

    My question for you was as follows: does a link from a publicly-funded school DEPARTMENT web site to a privately-funded school BOARD web site trigger the same equal access provision? As I indicated, a small fraction of the privately-funded school board web site provides information about and advocates for ballot questions, but only on a periodic basis.

    As I understand your answer, the equal access provision is NOT triggered because the school board site is not that of a ballot question committee. So that we have a record of our inquiry and your response, the favor of a reply is requested.

    Again, thanks very much for your time and attention to this matter.

    Sincerely,
    Jeff Dieffenbach
    member, Wayland School Committee

    cc: Louis Jurist, chair, Wayland School Committee
    Gary Burton, Superintendent, Wayland School Committee


    Subject: RE: Inquiry regarding OCPF-IB-04-01, links from a publicly-funded Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2008 17:19:07 -0500
    From: "Gregory Birne" <gbirne@cpf.state.ma.us>
    To: <dieffenbach@alum.mit.edu>

    Jeff:

    This is to confirm that “equal access” for ballot question committees opposing the school committee is not triggered by the arrangement you describe.

    Please note, however, that in IB-92-02 (“Activities of Public Officials in Support of or Opposition to Ballot Questions”), OCPF advised that a governmental website may post information or endorsements relating to a ballot question, but “further use of the governmental website or the Internet for a more political purpose, such as unsolicited e-mails to voters asking for their support, should be avoided.” Even though the school committee website is privately paid for, if it would be linked to the governmental website, the guidance in IB-92-02 relating to restrictions that apply to governmental websites would be applicable.

    Please feel free to call if you would like to discuss further.

    Greg Birne
    General Counsel, OCPF
    (617) 727-8352


    Per his suggestion, I called Mr. Birne this morning to better understand his caveat. He told me that the "for a more political purpose" limitation did not apply to solicited (not unsolicited) communications. That is, the WSC site is not subject to governmental restrictions because it sends no unsolicited email.

    When I asked him if he could put this in writing as well, he suggested the Committee would be better served to precisely describe the situation and send it to the OCPF. He further informed me that they would most likely respond with an Advisory Opinion, which would likely take at least 4 weeks. I told him that this timing was fine given that we don't have a ballot question in front of us.

  15. #30
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    Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Jeff [Baron], you chastised me for not doing research on sticker campaigns, but I'll decline to return the favor except to say that my post above is not my personal opinion, but rather references the OCPF's written ruling.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    First off, you didn't do the research on the stickers. You had to know I had triple checked every item of this. ... it makes you really begin to wonder about the legality of the SC website and the amount of real (as opposed to the suppositions posited in this post) research he or anyone else did to find out how much it truly complies with OCPF rules.
    I apologize if my remark wasn't clear. I wasn't talking about your research into stickers with respect to write-in campaigns, a topic about which I have no interest nor any sense that your actions were anything other than appropriate. Rather, I was attempting to say, contrary to your assertion, that I have researched the OCPF language applicable to the question of links from the WPS site to the WSC site.

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