March 9 2018,  Saugus

Newspaper Editor files second complaint against the Saugus School Committee for violations of the state Open Meeting Law

The Saugus Advocate has filed a second Open Meeting Law complaint against the Saugus School Committee, claiming “there appears to be an ongoing pattern” of violations of the law, which aims to make local government more transparent. “This complaint, although separate, is related to an earlier complaint I filed against the Saugus School Committee regarding the failure of the committee to open its Jan. 30, 2018 meeting in the School Committee Room as posted on the agenda,” Saugus Advocate Editor Mark E. Vogler wrote in a two-page complaint.

“The alleged violations in this complaint pertain specifically to the minutes for the Jan. 30, 2018 meeting … These alleged violations came to light when I received a copy of the minutes on March 1, 2018,” Vogler wrote.

Vogler cites three primary reasons for the latest complaint:

  • “First, the minutes are vague and do not specify where the meeting opened. The agenda states The School Committee Room. The minutes for the meeting say ‘An open session of the Saugus School Committee was held this date at the Roby School Building.’ The meeting should have opened in the School Committee Room, but opened instead in the superintendent’s office before members voted to go into executive session, I have since learned.”
  • “Secondly, while the agenda notes that the meeting will move into executive session to discuss ‘non-unit contract negotiations and to reconvene in Open Session,’ the minutes do not indicate whether the committee voted to go into executive session with intentions of reconvening in Open Session.”
  • “Thirdly, if you compare the agenda with the minutes, it’s not clear what the purpose of the executive session was for, and the wording is vague. The agenda says ‘to discuss non-unit contract negotiations.’ The minutes say ‘for the purpose of discussing contract negotiations with non-contract personnel.’ The agenda and the minutes don’t identify the specific personnel which are the subject of the executive session. Were there actual negotiations going on in the executive session? It’s not clear.”

Vogler noted in his complaint that the School Committee will not release the executive session minutes. “But, it appears from the minutes of the open session that the executive session had more to do about the budget than contract negotiations,” he wrote.

Vogler said the committee should request training from the Division of Open Government of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which is responsible for investigating Open Meeting Law complaints, enforcement of the law and providing education to public bodies. The committee should be ordered to receive training if members don’t request it, he said. “There appears to be an ongoing pattern by the Saugus School Committee that requires some oversight and guidance,” Vogler wrote. He also said the minutes should be corrected to reflect what happened at the meeting.

In approving the minutes for the Jan. 30 meeting at their Feb. 8 meeting, committee members asserted that there was nothing wrong with the way they began the meeting.

As of yesterday, the committee had not yet responded to The Saugus Advocate’s complaint, which the superintendent’s office received on Feb. 12. The law requires that the committee must meet to review the complaint within 14 business days and provide response to the complainant. A response was due by this past Monday.

“If the agenda for a meeting states the meeting will be in the School Committee Meeting Room, that’s where it should begin,” Vogler wrote in the complaint.

“There are several rooms on the two floors of the Roby School Building. Members of the public shouldn’t have to assume the meeting may be taking place at another location in the same building. The burden should be on the committee to make the location clear,” he said.

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