Article

KINNAS’ WORK ON OPEN MEETING LAW LEAVES CITY, OFFICIALS, CITIZENS BETTER OFF … SABOURIN, REID SUBCOMMITTEE IMMATURE REACTION TO OML COMPLAINTS IS THE TRUE EMBARRASSMENT IN THIS AFFAIR … plus … BARBALUNGA CLUELESS, AS INDICATED BY HIS REACTION TO AG’s RULINGS

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, SEPT. 12, 2013) — Because of the great work done by school committee member Terry Kinnas, all of official Pittsfield now has a better understanding of the state’s requirements regarding transparency during meetings. Essentially, the core or heart of the Open Meeting Law (OML) is this: The public’s business must be done in public. When you lock doors, don’t put up signage, and otherwise keep your meetings secret, you are breaking the law.

The Reid Middle School Community Outreach Subcommittee‘s decision to disband in light of Kinnas’ attempt to educate them on their OML requirements and obligations reflects an immature attitude on their part. It’s the equivalent of the little brat who takes his football and goes home because he doesn’t get his way on every play.

Julia Sabourin, the chair of that subcommittee, had a responsibility to respond within 14 days to the AG’s office after receiving the OML complaint. As the AG makes clear, Sabourin did not do this. She just blew it off as no big deal.

After Sabourin received the notice of a complaint, as the AG instructed her, she had the non-disretionary responsibility of:

1. Reviewing  Kinnas’ complaint.

2. Taking remedial action, if appropriate.

3. Sending to the Attorney General a copy of the complaint and a description of any remedial action taken.

4. Notifying the complainant — that is, Kinnas — that it had sent such materials to the AG.

5. Furnish Kinnas with “a description of any remedial action taken.”

The AG’s office sent the Reid subcommittee a letter on Feb. 25, 2013, enclosing a copy of the complaints and requesting that the subcommittee respond by March 15. As the AG wrote to Sabourin on Aug. 26, “The Subcommittee failed to respond. We remind the Committee [sic] that it must respond to Open Meeting Law complaints.” The subcommittee “must” respond, the AG tells Sabourin. There’s no discretion in “must.” Nonetheless, in an ignorant display of overweening bumptiousness, Sabourin and the subcommittee simply ignored the order.

For a rookie subcommittee, they caught on quickly: In Pittsfield, the laws do not apply when you’re a GOB, a bureaucrat, an officer, or anything other than a law-abiding, tax-paying, hard-working citizen. If you’re in the latter category, you’d better follow not just the spirit but the letter of the law, or else those same officials will look to hassle you in a disproportionate way.

Sabourin and the subcommittee are lucky that they were not subjected to fines for this contempt of due process. The AG let them off with a warning, “caution[ing] the Subcommittee that similar future violations may be considered evidence of an intentional violation of the law.” That’s when the fines will kick in. Since the subcommittee has disbanded, there’s little chance.

The AG further ordered Sabourin and the subcommittee members to:

1. Review the AG’s Open Meeting Law Guide, available at www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting.

2. “Certify in writing” to the AG’s office “within 30 days” that the members have complied. 

Compliance Still a Must, Despite Subcommittee’s Disbanding

The question has been raised that since the subcommittee has been disbanded, would they have to comply? THE PLANET‘s research indicates that the AGs orders are considered in effect, and that each member of the subcommittee must respond as indicated. From what we have learned, failure to respond as the AG indicates would likely lead to personal fines — regardless of the subcommittee’s status as banded or disbanded. Someone with a better understanding than this can let us know, but the subcommittee members would do wise not to further ignore the AG’s orders.

The other aspect of this case worth comment has to be PSC chairman Alf Barbalunga‘s reaction to the three violations. Barbalunga said that the actions of Kinnas would put a wet blanket over community involvement and volunteerism. Folks, you can’t make this up. In other words, instead of being proud that a member of his committee thought enough of the law and due process to take action where action was needed, Barbalunga turns it around by trying to throw Kinnas under the bus, not satisfied with having done that in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

— Barbalunga failed to address the question of why the Reid subcommittee was so ignorant of the OML in the first place. How could they not know they were considered public officials in the eyes of the OML?

— Barbalunga failed to criticize the Reid subcommittee’s failure to respond to the complaint as required.

— Barbalunga failed to address his own responsibility as chair to make sure that various school committees and subcommittees know the law.

— Barbalunga failed to explain how the Reid subcommittee should be so clueless when they acted as they did.

Barbalunga failed to explain his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Barbalunga should do that at once, because one major strain of throught on the street is that he orchestrated the Trial in an effort to shut Kinnas up once and for all. The other theory regarding the Monkey Trial, which THE PLANET believes rings more plausibly, is that Mayor Dan Bianchi, who is also a school committee member, designed the plan for the trial used a compliant Alf as the implementor. Which is it? If it’s not either, we would expect the PSC chair to inform us.

THE PLANET also shares this preamble, found on the AG’s website:

The Open Meeting Law

Effective July 1, 2010, responsibility for the state-wide enforcement of the Open Meeting Laws, relative to local, county, regional, and state public bodies has been centralized in the office of the Attorney General. The Open Meeting Law supports the principle that the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action. The Open Meeting Law requires that most meetings of governmental bodies to be held in public. There are some exceptions, which are designed to ensure that, public officials are not “unduly hampered” by having every discussion among public officials open to the public. As a result, the Open Meeting Law provides for particular circumstances under which a meeting may be held in executive, or closed, session. You may also contact the Division of Open Government, within the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley, at (617) 963-2540 or openmeeting@state.ma.us.

Notice how the information stresses that there are exceptions to the law, so that “public officials are not ‘unduly hampered’” in the performance of their duties. Barbalunga complained by implication that Kinnas’ actions on the four OML complaints he filed — all upheld by the AG! — would have a chilling effect on getting things done. If that’s what Barbalunga believes, he has a poor understanding of the OML, which contains reasonable provisions to meant to prevent the straight-jacketing of governance.

The AG also shares video training on its website and on You Tube.

OML Web Trainings

  • Introduction to Video Presentation

    This presentation has been recorded by the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government to serve as a resource to members of the public and public bodies seeking to understand the requirements of the Open Meeting Law. The presentation is divided up into six videos, and is current as of March 1, 2012. The run time for all six videos together is about one hour.  You may view the six videos in succession to cover the entire presentation, or you may select specific videos on topics of interest. While this presentation is meant to provide an overview of the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, specific questions should be addressed to the Division of Open Government at 617-963-2540 or atopenmeeting@state.ma.us.

    All of the following videos may also be viewed on our YouTube Channel:http://www.youtube.com/user/MassAttorneyGeneral

In the end, Terry Kinnas, once again, proved his creds with the people who matter the most. They would be the Owners of government, We The People.

Barbalunga, Sabourin, and Bianchi owe Kinnas a public apology.

——————————————————————————-

“Death is a nurse mother with big arms: ‘Twon’t hurt you at all; it’s / your time now; you just need a long sleep, child; what have you had / anyhow better than sleep?”Carl Sandburg, final stanza, “Death Snips Proud Men.”

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

40 Responses to “KINNAS’ WORK ON OPEN MEETING LAW LEAVES CITY, OFFICIALS, CITIZENS BETTER OFF … SABOURIN, REID SUBCOMMITTEE IMMATURE REACTION TO OML COMPLAINTS IS THE TRUE EMBARRASSMENT IN THIS AFFAIR … plus … BARBALUNGA CLUELESS, AS INDICATED BY HIS REACTION TO AG’s RULINGS”

  1. Ron Kitterman
    September 12, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Martha is running for Governor there’s nothing more to say.

    • irvin corey
      September 12, 2013 at 9:14 am #

      Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

  2. Still wondering
    September 12, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Martha is indeed running for governor. Let’s all pray she wins the primary because she is such a bad campaigner that the GOP candidate is a shoe in. My Gosh, have you ever heard her talk at a rally? She takes the air out of a room faster than a wandering skunk.

  3. Scott
    September 12, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Jesus from the wiki article I wouldn’t vote for her I know wiki tends to be unreliable but I clicked it just for her personal info age, place of birth etc. One thing that stood out was her trying to let off a child molesting cop. Seems like form her record she’s the quintessential Democrat Mass needs new leadership and a different direction.

  4. bobbyd
    September 12, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Sabourin and the subcommittee are lucky that they were not subjected to fines for this contempt of due process.

    Actually the city is lucky they were not fined. Council members have no personal liability with respect to those fines. It would likely have fallen back to the school committee or the city to pay. At least for purposes of ethics laws, school council members are treated as de facto city employees. Did Mr. Kinnas and the rest of the GOB-ophobes know that?

    As for the reaction to the complaints, the first complaint was addressed by reconvening the body to re-conduct the business from the meeting about which the first complaint was filed. When the second and third complaints were filed, it became clear it would just be easier to conduct all business through the full council.

    As for most school councils being more informed, I rather doubt it. They are on notice, however. And I’m sure Mr. Kinnas’s self-annointing as The Community Watchdog will find him seeking out as many violations as he can once his “private-citizen hat” is permanently in place in January. (Then I’ll want to know who’s watching the watchdog?)

    As long as school councils operate in good faith, even if they are found guilty of violating the minutia of the law, they will get warnings. One must wonder, though, how many long school councils will be inclined to follow the law when their members’ personal exposure is almost nil, or how long it will be before the OAG tires of Mr. Kinnas’s new hobby.

    • Jim Gleason
      September 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      Violating open meeting laws is not minutia, it is serious breaching of the law.Public meetings must be held in public, not some but all, and they must be posted in a timely manner to give said public sufficient notice. You sound like a GOB deflector.

      • bobbyd
        September 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

        I did not say the OML was minutia, but that some of the details are pretty arcane. As always you are welcome to disagree … and to be disagreeable as is your wont.

        It would have made my day if the Reid subcommittee had been fined. I would have been entirely giddy had the school committee deliberated in open session how to pay for it.

    • Hurdygurdy Man
      September 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

      You are incorrect. They are personally liable in the case of fines as they are considered officers. The subcommittee was official or was it not? Or did you not read the letter from the AG to Mrs. Sabourin? You sound like you were on the inside there! If so it’s not surprising that you didn’t bother to read the letter. Neither did the chairwoman.

      • bobbyd
        September 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

        Put in a call to the OAG and ask. Seriously.

  5. dusty
    September 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    A tip of the hat to Terry Kinnas. He can walk tall with his integrity intact.

    Barbalungas’ behavior did not surprise me at all. He was recruited for that position to do just as he has done. I don’t think he is capable of being embarrassed and that would probably be his only penance. I am sure he will move on to behave in the same such manner where ever he goes.

  6. MrG1188
    September 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Hey Dan. Is this a “Best of” article? I agree with all of the above, but don’t believe I read anything new or further illuminating in this that warranted further coverage. I think Alf’s final take on this came at the end of that scurrilous Eagle editorial and he will likely never speak of it again. There were some choice bits in the paper even this AM that I hope to see you comment on coming up; PEDA and the “new tenant,” the seeking of public input on that (how funny!) foot patrols coming back to North Street…but being paid for by overtime spending, etc. Thanks

    • dusty
      September 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

      Heard the new tenant is a Walmart mega store

    • danvalenti
      September 12, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

      MRG
      The video links are new. The AG’s comments are new. The detailed contents of what the AG ordered Sabourin to do, those are new.

    • Dave
      September 12, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      And what about the horsies moving to Dalton!!!!!!! I can’t believe we let that economic engine(Mega-horsepower, or horsesh@@ depending on your opinion) get away.

  7. Nota
    September 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Session 1.

  8. Nota
    September 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Mayor Bianchi was asked if he’d do an interview with the Planet, the answer was why? Then, an emphatic no. Now their will be foot patrols on North Street,the mayor will call it overtime.

    • danvalenti
      September 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Gee, could it be he’s scared? Nah. Not at all.

  9. Terry Kinnas
    September 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Points of clarification

    I was acting as a private citizen, not a member of the school committee, for all the Reid violations.

    I was acting as a school committee member for the e-mail violation.

    A school committee member has no authority or power once the school committee meeting is over. There are exceptions, but they must be voted on by the whole school committee. School committee members are not employees of the school department. School committee individuals are state officials elected locally.

    The Pittsfield School Committee was not trained in the Open Meeting Law by the Attorney General’s office; we were trained by the executive director of Mass. Assoc. of School Committees. He is not a lawyer. My initial training was with the DA’s office, then the AG’s office, conducted by lawyers at City Hall. I actually asked the lawyers how to proceed in different situations. I follow their suggestions.

    The school building principal is responsible for school council. The individual members are also responsible to follow the open meeting law, state ethic laws, public records law, etc.

    The link below should be helpful.

    http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/schoolcouncils/part2d.html

    All the information at the above link was given to the last three superintendents and requested to be forwarded to all of the principals. In about 99% of the hundred plus school council and vocational advisory board meetings there have not been any major problems like at Reid. The present superintendent is aware of the information, plus the changes that have recently taken place.

  10. bobbyd
    September 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    You still have absolutely NO clue about the difference between responsibility/culpability and liability. Perhaps you should consult a dictionary along your lawyer.

    You often speak and act with less than adequate understanding. Last night you demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the relationship between Common Core and the Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks. Have you even read the Common Core yourself. Your inaccuracies regarding transponders was stunning. A year or so ago my jaw hit the floor when you muddled through a highly incorrect explanation of Student Growth Percentiles.

    For what it’s worth, you said nothing above that wasn’t already clear. But as usual, you are ignorant of important facts.

    • raider50
      September 12, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      Stop picking on TK only a few more weeks and he will be off to the sidelines never to be heard from again. One could only hope!!

      • Dave
        September 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

        Stop crying cause the raiders blew one they should have won raider50

        • raider50
          September 13, 2013 at 8:26 am #

          spread covered! enough said.

    • Hurdygurdy Man
      September 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

      Your hatred of Mr. Kinnas (or jealously) is apparent. Kinnas’ understanding has been well more than adequate compared to the other humty dumpties on the school committee.

      • bobbyd
        September 12, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

        Yeeeaaah … No.

      • dusty
        September 13, 2013 at 1:37 am #

        I agree. He does seem to be part of the lynch mob.

  11. Scott
    September 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Some people miss the point rules, regulations, laws are in place for a reason. Feels like arguing in rummy when certain players I play with take their hand off a card and try to pull it back. Nope those are the rules get mad all you want… (I’m NOT talking about my wife I swear! )

    • bobbyd
      September 12, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

      Everyone already gets that point. And no one is mad about being “taught” the rules.

      To extend the card metaphor a bit, who would mind learning to play poker in a casino in which every time a player loses a hand, the house pays?

      • Hurdygurdy Man
        September 12, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

        to extend the card metaphor even further, when you play poker in the casino and you violate the rules, you are escorted outside and told not to return. Glad the subcommittee at Reid was found out cheating. Glad for Mr. Kinnas and his integrity.

        • bobbyd
          September 12, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

          But that’s not how OML violations by school councils are punished. Truly the house pays.

          Likewise, if the school committee had been fined for deliberating in email, the committee, not members, would have had to pay it.

        • danvalenti
          September 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

          HURDYG
          Thank you for your comments.

  12. bobbyd
    September 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    DV,

    Thanks for the links to the vids. They will come in handy!

    • danvalenti
      September 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      BOBBY
      And thank you for your contributions to this discussion. The “other side” is also, and always, an important ingredient during debate, especially when it’s intelligently put, as yours is.

  13. Joe Pinhead
    September 12, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    I’m a bit confused here Mr. D and was hoping you could address and reconcile a few issues for me. These are merely questions and are offered as such. In one post you state (relevant portion)….” the first complaint was addressed by reconvening the body to re-conduct the business from the meeting about which the first complaint was filed. When the second and third complaints were filed, it became clear it would just be easier to conduct all business through the full council.” My question centers around your knowledge of the complaint, are you or were you on the council? If not how is it you came to know that “it became clear it would just be easier to conduct all business through the full council.” Was the entire council made aware of the communications from the OAG? The statement that the full council should conduct all business could lead one to believe that while the entire council was named in the communication only some select few were initially made aware of it. If that is true what was the criteria for having knowledge? A sub council perhaps? What other business was not conducted by the full council? Is there recordings IE minutes to these meetings and deliberations? Was a vote taken by the few who had knowledge of this communication reflecting the desire or the wish to go to the full council?
    You go on in another post to mention that relevant portion “….but that some of the details are pretty arcane.” I suggest that if the council had partaken of the training offered by the OAG either in video or print format or help us both the inner workings of the OML would not be arcane to them but would be standard procedure. I feel that a basic working knowledge and a bit of common sense was all that one would need to understand the OML. An agenda posted in advance as well as an unlocked door doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for.
    I am sure you are aware the OAG recently went through the entire OML when they became responsible for its enforcement and portions were rewritten and reworked, from that a reasonable person could conclude that the OAG feels all portions of the law are germane and salient. What would lead one to believe the OAG would tire of Mr. Kinnas new hobby? After all he’s throwing a perfect game. They can use his complaints to generate opinion letters to be used and cited State wide. I doubt they tire just one pinheads opinion.
    I too would have liked to see the full committee pay the fine and discuss it in open session, thus causing a line item and cost center for penalties. Next year there would be none and they would tout the fact they saved x in that cost center and would request a transfer to god knows what line item, heat I suppose.
    Bottom line I hope that all parties learn something from this the people’s business is just that the peoples we entrust you to conduct it for us boards, councils, committees, commissions etc. don’t abuse that trust as there is nothing as sacred. And I thank Mr. Kinnas and every other citizen who attempts to safeguard it.

    after all its for the children

    • danvalenti
      September 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Thank you, JP. As always, great food for thought. I hope BOBBYD chooses to respond to your questions.

    • bobbyd
      September 13, 2013 at 4:07 am #

      I was on the full council and the full council was made aware. After being made aware of the mistakes made in the first meeting, the subcommittee met again to re-conduct the meeting. When they did, they did so in a manner very accessible to the public.

      The second and third complaints were because the posting procedure was not clear. No one was aware that once the meeting was posted with the secretary of the school committee that it was not being forwarded immediately to the city clerk. There was a 24-hour delay of which the subcommittee–and the full committee, for that matter–were not aware. Once that happened, the subcommittee was dissolved to minimize the number of meetings. Less meetings; less mistakes.

      The only function of the subcommittee was to explore possibilities for community outreach and secure venues throughout the Reid district in which the full council could meet with parents and students of Reid’s neediest feeder schools. There was no attempt to subvert democracy and operate in secret. They always operated in good faith. As always, YMMV.

      • Joe Pinhead
        September 13, 2013 at 5:12 am #

        MR.D,
        Thanks for answering some of my questions and clarifying a few things. A couple of more questions if you would please. As you know the law requires before a board or council in this case meets it is mandatory that each member receives and verifies receipt of this training obviously the training for whatever reason was either incomplete or in some way deficient. Have you or to the best of your knowledge anyone on the council been approached and asked by either School administration, City Administration or any other parties involved with the initial training for a debrief on what wasn’t understood, what could have been done better etc.? I ask not for a Witch hunt but I feel any and every department should push and strive to make themselves better and it’s obvious something is not right in this area. It just seems to me that officials have taken the opportunity to divide the community on this issue,(Chairman Barbalunga’s comments) I hope someone will show leadership and address the issue in hopes of not repeating the same types of issues, as you pointed out Mr. Kinnas will continue to file complaints.

        for the children

  14. bobbyd
    September 13, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    I believe the posting procedure has been fixed, or at least made plain, so that school councils and their subcommittees have their agendas posted on time in the future.

    As to your larger question, there were quite a few ins-and-outs of school council operations even beyond OML of which I was never personally made aware and about which I have since tried to educate myself. I definitely agree that there should be an explicit and systematic approach to training in which the requisite knowledge and resources are provided to those who need to know. This should be handled through the school committee.

    That’s what makes Mr. Kinnas’s actions as a private citizen so enigmatic to me. He filed charges with the AG rather than work through his position on the SC to put such a structure in place. Were I a member of the SC and identified a problem, that would have been my first thought.

    It is even more puzzling once one realizes that the liability for fines would have fallen back on the city. From Mr. Kinnas’s earlier response, I believe he was not aware of that. Even so, while he was certainly within his rights as a citizen to do as he did, it seems to me that a more judicious approach was in order and would have been more in keeping with his role as an officer. I have my own suspicions as to what drove his decisions. Again, YMMV.

    And no need to call be Mr. D, Bob or bobbyd is fine.

    • Joe Pinhead
      September 13, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      Bobby d, I admire your desire to obtain the information and to educate yourself on the procedures and requirements. One of the things that I find most disappointing is the total lack of leadership exhibited by both the School Committee chairperson and the Mayor. Each of them by this point could have easily removed all the parties (council members and Mr. Kinnas) from the fray. Either or both of them could have publicly stated we own this mess due to a lack of clear procedure or the understanding and execution thereof We have therefor requested the OAG review or training process and procedures and look forward to working with and implementing any recommendations they suggest as soon as possible so that we can seat and maintain boards, councils, commissions, etc. as soon as possible here in the new school year as to not impede the business of both educating the children and keeping the public up to date as to how it is being completed.

      But that would be about leadership and it appears many in power here are more concerned with showmanship. PS MMIAA

      • bobbyd
        September 13, 2013 at 11:37 am #

        A am inclined to agree with your assessment of what good leadership looks like. I am less inclined, however, to give Mr. Kinnas a pass.

  15. raider50
    September 13, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    The answer to this post is easy, If Mr. Kinnas used his position on the SC to help educate and work through the OMV it would have attracted much less attention to himself. Eventually he will go the way of Peter Arlos, Renaldo DelGallo and others of the like. Just a side issue, what was the ground breaking reason for the meeting in the first place?