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Thread: And Now What?

  1. #1
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    Default And Now What?

    High court rules that Wayland board violated open meeting law

    By Globe Staff

    In the final chapter of a long legal saga, the state's highest court ruled today that an exchange of e-mails among Wayland School Committee members about the performance of the school superintendent violated the state's open meeting law.

    The "private e-mail exchange ... violated the letter and spirit of the open meeting law," the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

    "Governmental bodies may not circumvent the requirements of the open meeting law by conducting deliberations via private messages, whether electronically, in person, over the telephone, or in any other form," the court said in a five-page opinion written by Justice Francis X. Spina.

    The court rejected the School Committee's argument that "preliminary e-mail communications" between the school committee members were not considered "records of a meeting" and were not subject to the open meetings law disclosure requirements.

    The school committee chairman sent out a request for input on the superintendent's performance in June 2004. Three of the four members responded, either to the superintendent or the whole committee.

    A reporter for the Wayland Town Crier filed a complaint with the Middlesex district attorney's office alleging that the process of evaluating the superintendent had violated the open meeting law. The district attorney found that the e-mails and two subsequent executive sessions violated the open meeting law and sued in Superior Court.

    The Superior Court ruled in favor of the school committee, but the Supreme Judicial Court reversed that ruling today.

    Neither a spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office nor Regina Williams Tate, the attorney representing the school committee, returned messages seeking comment this afternoon.

    Robert Ambrogi, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said the opinion was important, among other reasons, because it affirmed that discussion of a government employee's professional competence had to be conducted in public and because it affirmed that an exchange of emails among members of a government board can constitute an open meeting.

    He said the latter point had already been generally accepted, but it was the first time the court had specifically ruled on the issue.

  2. #2
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    Default Now What? Time for Dinner.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    High court rules that Wayland board violated open meeting law

    By Globe Staff

    In the final chapter of a long legal saga, the state's highest court ruled today that an exchange of e-mails among Wayland School Committee members about the performance of the school superintendent violated the state's open meeting law.

    The "private e-mail exchange ... violated the letter and spirit of the open meeting law," the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
    Kim and Louis... are you there?
    If I recall, we had a dinner bet on this one.... I'm going to enjoying having that dinner and your company ASAP in 2010.
    You know how to get a hold of me.

    Your Buddy,

    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Kim and Louis... are you there?
    If I recall, we had a dinner bet on this one.... I'm going to enjoying having that dinner and your company ASAP in 2010.
    You know how to get a hold of me.

    Your Buddy,

    Alan
    That is vaguely familiar. I don't recall the specifics of the bet (perhaps Louis will), but I propose that it be resolved at the new Mexican restaurant.

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    FYI, I posted some comments on the SJC ruling on an earlier thread on this topic.

  5. #5
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    Default Huh?

    How about the perspective of YOUR lawyer (Regina Tate) on what the ruling means? I can honestly say I do not know how much money was spent by the SC defending this, but I would think it had to be a pretty penny. Also, wasn't an attorney a sitting member of the SC at the time?

    I am somewhat surprised that as a party to the suit, you are speculating about what it all means instead of knowing/being briefed on the impact of the judgement against your side.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    How about the perspective of YOUR lawyer (Regina Tate) on what the ruling means? I can honestly say I do not know how much money was spent by the SC defending this, but I would think it had to be a pretty penny. Also, wasn't an attorney a sitting member of the SC at the time?
    I haven't spoken with the Committee's attorney yet. As I posted here, the cost to the WSC was $6,000. Yes, one of the members of the WSC in 2004 is a lawyer.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    I am somewhat surprised that as a party to the suit, you are speculating about what it all means instead of knowing/being briefed on the impact of the judgement against your side.
    The suit is past tense, of course, and my speculation is about what the ruling means in general for evaluation processes in the future, not how the WSC might respond in this particular instance.

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    I'm curious, Jeff--do you read the ruling the same way that I do?

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    Default Going forward

    Here is the way I read it... as eloquently stated by attorney Robert Ambrogi

    Robert Ambrogi, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said the opinion was important, among other reasons, because it affirmed that discussion of a government employee's professional competence had to be conducted in public and because it affirmed that an exchange of emails among members of a government board can constitute an open meeting.


    Looks like going forward these evaluations will be done in public and email communications can constitute an open meeting.
    This applies to the SC, BoS and all other boards.

    Too bad it took Wayland $6,000 to discover what was already known. $6,000 approaches one years median property taxes of one property in Wayland. Too bad for that family... wonder who it is?

    So will the SC being spending another year's property tax of some family to test this once again?

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    Yep, thats the way I remember it....
    Say end of January 2010?

    I'll talk to Louis.

    alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Here is the way I read it... as eloquently stated by attorney Robert Ambrogi

    Robert Ambrogi, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said the opinion was important, among other reasons, because it affirmed that discussion of a government employee's professional competence had to be conducted in public and because it affirmed that an exchange of emails among members of a government board can constitute an open meeting.

    Looks like going forward these evaluations will be done in public and email communications can constitute an open meeting.
    This applies to the SC, BoS and all other boards.
    The Committee has been aware since the Middlesex District Attorney's original ruling that the evaluation had to be conducted in public, and has done so every year since.

    SOME exchanges of email--those among a quorum of a committee on matters that pertain to the Committee's decision-making--trigger Open Meeting Law. Since no quorum was involved in the instance under discussion, it's not clear why the SJC ruled that the OML applied in this case.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Too bad it took Wayland $6,000 to discover what was already known. $6,000 approaches one years median property taxes of one property in Wayland. Too bad for that family... wonder who it is?

    So will the SC being spending another year's property tax of some family to test this once again?
    As far as I know, there isn't a higher court to which to appeal (not that the Committee would necessarily choose such a path if it existed), so the testing is done. Regarding your point about discovering "what was already known," I don't agree. The SJC ruling appears to shed significant NEW light on what committees are and are not required to make public in evaluating an employee. Specifically, it's new information to me that written evaluations do not need to be made public, and in fact, can't be made public without the employee's approval.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I'm curious, Jeff--do you read the ruling the same way that I do?
    No idea, Jeff.

    All I'd say is what I've always said -- the more disclosure, the better. We pay way too much in the way of taxes to expect anything other than the most sensitive of issues (the evaluation of the town's most-highly paid employee is not in that category) to be discussed behind closed doors.

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    Jeff D., as one of two only *still* sitting members of the SC from 2004 and the chair of the SC at that time, I have a question for you...

    Since this SJC ruling now effectively says that the emails (written documents) are for the public under the OML would the SC be making those documents available tomorrow night at the SC meeting or electronically on www.WSC.org for inspection and download?

    For the $6K+ it probably cost Wayland taxpayers and 5 years of suits and countersuits, I'll bet the taxpayers of Wayland would like to see what this is all about and what the SC felt was so important to protect.

    I think this should be done by the SC proactively now (not later) that this matter is settled... filing FOIA's are such a pain in the .....

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Jeff D., as one of two only *still* sitting members of the SC from 2004 and the chair of the SC at that time, I have a question for you...
    Actually, I think I'm the only current member who was on the WSC during that period.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Since this SJC ruling now effectively says that the emails (written documents) are for the public under the OML would the SC be making those documents available tomorrow night at the SC meeting or electronically on www.WSC.org for inspection and download?
    I'm traveling on business and was unable to attend--was this discussed?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    For the $6K+ it probably cost Wayland taxpayers and 5 years of suits and countersuits, I'll bet the taxpayers of Wayland would like to see what this is all about and what the SC felt was so important to protect.
    In my opinion, this was never about the relatively innocuous nature of the individual comments in question, but rather, about the general ability of the WSC to perform a superintendent evaluation in a way that leads to the best educational outcomes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    In my opinion, this was never about the relatively innocuous nature of the individual comments in question, but rather, about the general ability of the WSC to perform a superintendent evaluation in a way that leads to the best educational outcomes.
    Could you elaborate on this?
    Specifically how did allowing this issue to go to the Mass Judcicial Court "lead to the best educational outcomes"?


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    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 Dieffenbach View Post
    I'm traveling on business and was unable to attend--was this discussed?
    You mean you don't have a SlingBox to watch WaylandTV remotely?

    On second thought filing an FOIA is not such a pain in the ......

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