Milford selectman violated "both the letter and the spirit" of the open meeting law when they met privately last summer with a real estate developer to discuss a proposed casino, the Worcester district attorney ruled this week. I take "the letter and the spirit" to imply that the board's violation was not just literal, but also intentional. Hardly matters, given that violations of the open meeting law in this state -- intentional or not -- carry no meaningful consequences.
Read more about the DA's ruling from The MetroWest Daily News, whose editor, Richard Lodge, initiated the complaint over the closed meeting. Notably, all the DA could do to remedy the violation was to order the board to release its minutes. This illustrates the fact that Massachusetts has one of the weakest open meeting laws in the nation in its provisions for enforcement. The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and others have pushed for the legislature to toughen the law, to no avail.
One of the most frequent arguments against a tougher law is that officials who violate it always do so out of negligence or misunderstanding -- never intentionally. Yet here is another example of a board contorting the clear language of the law in order to cut the public out of the conversation. This was an exploratory meeting to discuss a possible casino development in Milford. It was precisely the sort of subject about which the town's residents had every right to be informed. If only officials would consider the spirit of the law, perhaps they'd be less likely to violate its letter.