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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.