Sunday, March 13, 2011

Did UMass Trustees Violate Open Meeting Law?

State House reporter Dan Ring has a story today in The Republican reporting that Attorney General Martha Coakley will open an investigation into whether the trustees of the University of Massachusetts violated the state open meeting law when they met in closed session to interview finalists for the job of university president.

Dan interviewed me for this story and, as he reports, my opinion is that the violation is clear. When a government body is filling a job opening, the law allows closed-door meetings only at the preliminary stages of the process. Once the final pool of candidates is identified, the rest of the process should take place in the open.

That only makes sense. The public has a right to know about the candidates for a public job. That is especially the case for a public job as important as president of the state university.

To me, this story is yet another illustration of why the state's open meeting law needs more teeth and fewer exceptions. Here, the UMass trustees ignored both the letter and the spirit of the law. To justify their closed-door meetings, they relied on two exceptions in the law that clearly did not pertain to this situation.

It remains to be seen what the AG's office will conclude. To me, the violation seems indisputable.

1 comment:

Warren Smythe said...

The open meeting law states that most of the meetings to determine a government decision have to take place in public. It also says that the meeting can only be private if it is an "executive decision". UMass Trustees did not meet for that purpose so in that case, I believe that they are Violating the Open Meeting Law. In a case that took place in New Orleans, two city council members were charged for emailing each other illegally. For this they went to court. The trial court believed that the first amendment did not cover their actions but the Appellate court thought otherwise. The case was trying to decide if the private meeting is covered under the first amendment and if the open meeting law was Unconstitutional. The decision was that the law is constitutional but only by a small degree. The Open Meeting Law is an exception to the first amendment in how it prohibits two persons to talk in private. So for this reason, it needs to be more clear in how many exceptions it has. This means if any two or more persons talk about a government decision, it needs to be in public unless it is an executive decision. If this is not the case, then it should be a violation of the Open meeting Law.