Thursday, August 04, 2011

AG Rules UMass Trustees Committed 'Wide-Ranging and Serious' Violations of Open Meeting Law

In March, I wrote a post here explaining why I believed the UMass Board of Trustees violated the Open Meeting Law when they went into closed sessions to interview the final candidates for the university president. That post was a follow-up to an earlier post in which State House reporter Dan Ring reported in The Republican that Attorney General Martha Coakley was opening an Open Meeting Law investigation into the trustees' actions.

Today, Ring reports that the AG has issued her findings in the investigation -- and they are harsh. In a 17-page letter, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic writes that the trustees violated the law "throughout the presidential search process" and committee violations that "were wide-ranging and serious."

This is an important ruling from the AG. It underscores a number of the law's requirements as they apply both to executive sessions and to the process of screening and hiring candidates for public jobs. I hope every public official in the state reads this opinion carefully.

At the same time, I wish the AG had imposed a penalty that fit the crime. The "harshest" of the various remedies the AG ordered was for the trustees to undergo training in the Open Meeting Law. This is important, but it amounts to a slap on the wrist now that the deed is done.

I would have preferred to see the AG invalidate the appointment and order the trustees to go through the process in compliance with the law. That would have sent a message they would not soon forget.

Still, the opinion is a strong affirmation of the importance of the Open Meeting Law.

For a PDF of the AG's letter, click here

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