Both the Lexington School Committee and Minuteman Regional School Committee have violated Open Meeting Law in the past two years, according to determinations released last week by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.
The Lexington School Committee ran afoul of the law during the 2010-2011 school year, when it voted to extend the contract of Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash in an executive session. The AG’s office received two complaints stemming from that situation, filed by Lexington residents Eric Eid-Reiner and Dawn McKenna.
This finding does not void Ash’s contract.
The Minuteman School Committee’s complaint, filed earlier this year by David Manjarrez, a former member of the board, and dealt with emails to a quorum of school committee members.
Lexington School Committee Complaints, Response
At the outset of a School Committee meeting held June 7, 2011, then-Chairwoman Mary Ann Stewart announced her board had voted on a contract extension for Ash a week earlier during an executive session. Amid objections and some confusion, Stewart explained a decision had been reached and role-call vote was taken, constituting a legally binding extension of the contract.
Following the meeting, Eid-Reiner and McKenna submitted separate complaints to the School Committee, and both elevated them to the AG’s office after being unsatisfied with the School Committee’s response.
Read Eric Eid-Reiner's OML Complaint by clicking the PDF above.
Eid-Reiner’s complaint alleged the School Committee improperly extended Ash’s contract and discussed his professional competence in executive session. In addition to echoing those charges, McKenna’s complaint also alleges the School Committee failed to give proper notice of the topic discussed at multiple meetings, failed to state that holding an open meeting would have detrimental effect on its bargaining position and failed to provide full access to its June 7 meeting.
According to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic, the AG’s office found the vote to extend Ash’s contract did violate Open Meeting Law, as did the School Committee’s failure to state in its meeting notices the name of the person whose contract it planned to discuss. Regarding the other three allegations, the AG’s office did not find the School Committee violated Open Meeting Law.
The School Committee’s unanimous vote in open session to “formalize the contract in public and authorize the chair to sign” the contract extension was insufficient to rectify its original violation, the determination says.
In its conclusion, Sclarsic’s letter explains that while the AG’s office is ordering immediate future compliance with Open Meeting Law, it will not nullify Ash’s contract due to the newness of stipulations of Open Meeting Law.
“Because the Committee did not have the benefit of the guidance in our decision in OML 2011-28 at the time of this meeting, we do not order nullificaiton of the action taken by the Committee in approving the Superintendent’s contract, however we caution the Committee that future similar violations may result in nullificaiton of any action taken,” the letter states.
According to the Minuteman determination, the complaint from Manjarrez was filed in March alleging Minuteman Regional School Committee Chairwoman Alice DeLuca violated Open Meeting Law by providing an opinion and determination by email to a quorum of the committee on a public matter, and did not provide public access to those deliberations.
The issue at hand was the date of Minuteman High’s graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2012, and a series of emails that followed.
The determination, released in a letter signed by Assistant Attoreny General Hanne Rush, explains the matter of the emails is “a close question,” but did constitute improper deliberation outside of an open meeting.