Barnstable County Commissioners Break Open Meeting Law – Embarrass Cape Again – Get Off Scot- Free
by Lonnie Brennan
File this under ‘Democrats protecting Democrats, again.’
After receiving complaints that the notoriously non-transparent Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners had again run afoul of the truth, Democrat Attorney General Maura Healey’s office waited a full seven months – until AFTER the November elections, to release their findings.
The attorney general’s office cited the three sitting Democrat commissioners with violating the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §§ 18-25, in a near-silently released filing of a report (via e-mail only) on Nov. 18, 2022.
According to the attorney general’s office, the commissioners had run afoul of the law at an April 6th meeting. A detailed complaint was submitted by former commissioner Ron Beaty who noted that the chair of the board had acted at the meeting on a topic which was not posted. In short, she failed to notify the public that discussion and action on a major change in recommended federal fund allocations would take place.
After reviewing the extensive notes (responses/excuses) from Barnstable Commission Chair Sheila Lyons, the Assistant Attorney General – Division of Open Government – Elizabeth Carnes Flynn, noted: “Although we credit the Chair’s assertion that she did not know definitively that the Board would need to discuss and rescind its March 30 vote to allocate ARPA funds until the morning of April 6, we find that this topic was reasonably anticipated where the Chair was actively working with the Speaker to resolve the dispute and the Chair knew that if she heard from the Speaker regarding the proposed path forward before the April 6 meeting she would raise the topic of rescinding the Board’s March 30 vote at the April 6 meeting. Therefore, we find that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by discussing a reasonably anticipated topic during its April 6 meeting that was not included on the notice for that meeting. See OML 2016-101; OML 2014-117. ”
Additionally, the commissioners were called out for their lack of timely approval and posting of meeting minutes – keeping the public in the dark. Assistant attorney general wrote: “We find that the Board has not established good cause for delay in approving meeting minutes. In general, a public body’s workload does not constitute good cause for delay in approving meeting minutes.”
At the time of the complaint, 13 sets of meeting minutes were in arrears.
In her four-page letter, the assistant attorney general recapped the responses from the Commissioners during the investigation, and discounted each of the commissioner’s responses, citing why.
However, despite clear video-taped evidence readily available on YouTube, and a detailed, timely complaint, the attorney general’s office somehow took just over seven months to render an opinion (on something demonstrable provable in 10 minutes or less), until after the mid-term elections. And they waived any penalties to the commissions, as too much time had expired, and the commissioners – after being called out – had caught up with the missing 13 sets of minutes prior to the determination letter of Nov. 18, 2022.
“For the reasons stated above,” the assistant attorney general ended her letter, “we find that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by discussing an anticipated topic that was not included on the notice for its April 6 meeting and by failing to timely approve thirteen sets of meeting minutes. We order the Board’s immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law, and caution that similar future violations could be considered evidence of intent to violate the Law. Because the discussion at issue occurred in open session, is reflected in both the minutes for the April 6 meeting as well as the video recording of the April 6 meeting, and because of the time that has passed, we do not order additional remedial action. Likewise, because all thirteen sets of meeting minutes have been approved, we do not order further remedial action.”