Three weeks ago I submitted an Open Meeting Law complaint against the Northeast Metro Tech School Building Committee. The complaint alleges Open Meeting Law violations over almost the entire period of time the committee has been meeting, violations that explain why the public have been unaware of the plan to build the new school on the forested hilltop site until only recently. The complaint says that for the first 22 months of the project, the school Building Committee posted no public meeting notices. It says that for the next 13 months of the project, the Building Committee posted notices only sporadically – not for every meeting and not to every town and city in the district. During that time, when meeting notices were posted, the notices did not include an agenda or announcements of upcoming votes, something required under the Open Meeting Law. The Building Committee took major votes in three meetings during this time – none of those votes were announced to the public. One of those votes was the vote on the location of the new school building. The public were prevented from having input on the decision of where to build, and the decision to build on the hill was kept quiet all the way through the vote to approve the funding.
Additional violations are that meeting minutes for the Building Committee’s meetings were not posted on the town’s and city’s municipal websites, and the committee did not follow the steps required by the Open Meeting Law to adopt a separate website as its official posting method. The public were not made aware of meetings, of the stage of the project, of upcoming votes, or of previous discussions by the committee. It was a virtual shut out.
When the Open Meeting Law complaint was shared with town representatives on the Building Committee, one representative replied “It will be interesting to learn whether or not Northeast failed to submit meeting notices in a timely manner or, if in fact, the clerks in the cities and towns erred by not posting the notices accordingly.” The implication being that if meeting notices weren’t posted to the towns, it was the fault of all 12 town clerks in the district, not of the Building Committee. The idea strains credulity and tells you something about their sense of accountability.
The Building Committee has said the public should have known about the school’s location from the Facebook page, which launched months after the committee’s vote on the site. Unfortunately for the Building Committee, the Open Meeting Law does not say that public information can be shared on “Facebook or wherever,” it says that it has to be shared via the official posting method for each town, in other words, the posting method on file with the Attorney General’s office. For most towns in the district the official posting method is the town’s municipal website. This serves to ensure that a town resident can reasonably find the information about the public committee meetings. The NEMT district has over 251,000 registered voters. The project’s Facebook page has only 900 followers – one-third of one percent of the number of registered voters. There is no doubt that the committee members are aware of the Open Meeting Law requirements. The committee’s Chief Executive David DiBarri and School Committee Chair Deborah Davis have attested repeatedly to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (which oversees the funds for the project) that the committee has followed the Open Meeting Law [1-2]. Furthermore, all members of public committees are required to be familiar with the Open Meeting Law requirements. That includes every town and city in the district’s representative on the committee.
I’ll share one more example of this committee’s lack of transparency and accountability. In January 2021, the Massachusetts School Building Authority asked the NEMT Project team to “provide a narrative that summarizes the District’s internal and public outreach discussions” regarding the estimated operating costs of the future building, which will be approximately 160% larger than the existing facility. The NEMT project team responded “This budget information will be distributed individually to each member community’s Finance Committee and Town Manager/ Mayor during this Spring’s annual budget presentation in April.”  This past February I requested a copy of those operating costs through the Building Committee’s records access officer. The response I eventually received was “No documents regarding post construction operational costs have been produced or shared with city/town officials.” I had to appeal this request to the Secretary of State’s Supervisor of Records to get this response. To be clear, these records relate to the increased annual operating costs that NEMT district residents will have to pay when the new building opens in 2026, on top of the $177 million district residents will have to pay to construct the school where the hilltop forest currently stands. After financing, the cost to the district’s 12 towns and cities will be closer to $307 million . The fact that estimated operating costs were not produced or shared suggests that town officials across the NEMT district are still unaware of the full financial impact of the planned hilltop school building.
The upset over the plan to build the new building on the hill is not “just about the trees.” It’s not even a partisan issue. Residents from all across the political spectrum are alarmed by the plan. For some it’s because of the needless destruction of high quality natural resources. For some it’s about the unnecessary safety risks to students of putting the school on the hill, where they will have to cross in front of stopping traffic on a steep road in all weather conditions to access the building from the student parking lot. For some it’s about the accessibility of the campus to students with diverse abilities, students who may see their vocational, recreational, and social opportunities limited because of a school design that clearly did not take them into account. For many it’s about wasteful spending of tax dollars and tax increases that will be required to pay for the extensive costs of building on the hill. The selected building site will require millions of dollars worth of blasting to flatten the hilltop. These blasting costs are not reimbursable by the MSBA and will be passed to the 12 communities in the district. This is not a NIMBY issue. We are simply asking that the school construct its new building in a different spot in our backyard.
The NEMT School Committee will be meeting this Thursday, April 13th at 7 pm in the school’s library and will be discussing the OML complaint. I believe that each town’s representative shares responsibility for ensuring that their town has access to the information they need about the project. Please write to your town or city’s representative to tell them you want them to make the common sense decision that’s in everyone’s best interest – building the new school on the already developed land.
Contact the district representatives for the 12 towns and cities: https://northeastbuildingproject.com/building-committee/ (Most members’ contact is through T. Kasparek’s email. Please ask Tyese to forward your communication.)
Chelsea, Michael Wall
Malden, James Holland
Melrose, Ward Hamilton
- Reading, Judy Dyment
Reading, Robert McCarthy
Revere, Anthony Gaggiano
Saugus, Peter Rossetti
Stoneham, Larry Means
Wakefield, Brittany Carisella
Winchester, Brant Snyder
Winthrop, Robert O’Dwyer
Woburn, Deborah Davis
You can find the full Open Meeting Law complaint on the Facebook page for Save the Forest and Build the Voke.
 NEMT Preferred Design Program, Local Actions and Approvals (3.1.7), pg 17. http://northeastbuildingproject.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2020/09/3.1.7-Local-Actions-Approval-Cert.pdf
 NEMT Preferred Schematic Report, Local Actions and Approvals (3.3.5), pg 27. http://northeastbuildingproject.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2021/01/3.3.5-Local-Actions-Approvals.pdf
 NEMT Schematic Design. Response to MSBA PSR Review (4.1.2-01b), pg 6.http://northeastbuildingproject.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2021/12/4.1.2-01b_Response-to-MSBA-PSR-Review.pdf
 NEMT Schematic Design Binder, Estimated Local Share Tax Impact (4.1.2-15d), pg 2. http://northeastbuildingproject.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2021/12/4.1.2-15d_Estimated-Local-Share-Tax-Impact.pdf