Monday, October 13, 2008

DA Says Town Broke Open Meeting Law

Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. has ruled that the Charlton, Mass., board of selectmen violated the open meeting law by meeting in private to evaluate the job performance of Town Administrator Robin Craver. The DA was acting on a complaint filed by the Telegram & Gazette, which reported the ruling in an Oct. 11 story, Town Manager Evaluation Ruled Illegal. In an Oct. 7 letter, the DA's office notified the selectmen that, in its opinion, the law requires performance evaluations of high-level public officials to be conducted in open session.

The case is interesting in that the selectmen sought to avoid an actual meeting. Instead, the chair sent out a summary evaluation and each board member reported back to the chair with comments. The chair compiled their feedback into a final evaluation, which he then discussed with the town administrator. Only after finishing the evaluation process did the chair read the summary evaluation at a public meeting.

The DA said that, even without a meeting, this process violated the law "by conducting the significant portion of the evaluation of the Town Administrator through a wholly written process that excluded the public." The letter continued: "The Legislature did not intend to allow Boards to shield their deliberations regarding performance evaluation of high-level employees from public disclosure by utilizing a process of written evaluations that are not made available to the public." In this sense, the case seems to parallel those involving "serial e-mails" or "serial meetings," where no single deliberative meeting is ever held but a violation is found nonetheless.

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