MWDN: Did the Planning Board violate Open Meeting Laws?

by beth on August 6, 2013

A recent article by The Metrowest Daily News again reports that the Southborough Planning Board has been in possible violation of the Open Meeting Laws.

The Planning Board disagrees.

MWDN reported that discussions regarding the hiring of a new Town Planner have been taking place at Planning Board meetings without 48 hours public notice.

MWDN questioned Planning Board Chairman Don Morris:

“We were advised that the discussions fall under the ‘Other discussions properly before the board’ (agenda item),” Morris said. When asked who had provided that advice, Morris said he could not recall.

Town Clerk Paul Berry said Friday that the advice did not come from him. . . “They shouldn’t discuss something that’s not on the agenda unless something comes up during the meeting,” he said.

MWDN cited other meetings in which the town planner position was discussed with no specific mention on the agenda. The report also called into question the board’s decision to keep the candidates and finalist for the position confidential. (Read the full story here.)

This isn’t the first time MWDN has shined a light on the board’s practices.  Just this spring, they ran the following story: Southborough Planning Board may have violated Open Meeting Law. That story focused on the board spending 15-20 minutes in private discussion prior to opening the meeting. (Proportedly to discuss procedures.)

What do you think? Is the board violating Open Meeting Laws?

How much leeway should “Other discussions properly before the board” allow board members to have?

1 John Kendall August 6, 2013 at 8:43 AM

I think there is a lot going on behind the scenes with the planning board. The on again-off again special town meeting, unnamed finalists for the Town Planner position, meetings cancelled……makes you wonder what is really happening.

2 Tasha August 6, 2013 at 11:47 AM

The biggest problem that our town faces is that there are not enough residents engaged in the business of Southborough. For example, there is a group that is rewriting the town zoning laws and if you ask around pretty much no one knows this is happening. We are letting a very few number a people make major decisions about our town and some of those people have interests that will benefit them and their companies if these changes are indeed voted in. Why aren’t more residents asking why builders are on our planning and zoning boards? Isn’t that a major conflict of interest? Without a lot of eyes and ears and interest from our residents, it is very easy to have committees break the laws (knowingly or unknowingly). We, the residents of this town are the checks and balances. So please start participating and everyone will benefit. I think many folks will be shocked when they see some of the zoning changes that are being proposed.

3 SB Resident August 6, 2013 at 2:46 PM

I couldn’t agree with you more Tasha. It is simply crazy that there are local builders on the planning board. Serious question, is there anything that can be done about that? Can selectmen remove them? Most people are so disgruntled about all levels of our government that they’ve all just given up.

However in this case, I think the zoning change thing has been going on so long because the check and balances have been working a little. They tried to rewrite the thing so that no one would notice the major changes and that got fought and now they are taking more and more time most likely because they know that this is something that will get looked over very closely. When this comes to a vote I know if there is anything in it that I don’t like, I will tell my neighbors and I will be there to vote.

4 Ken G August 6, 2013 at 2:22 PM

“Other discussions, blah, blah, blah” used to be used all the time, but it has been very clear since the last update to the MA Open Meeting Law that it is not to be used anymore. A public body CANNOT discuss any topic which does not appear on the agenda. If something comes up during a meeting, the chair is supposed to table the discussion and place it on the agenda for the next meeting. The BOS should be insisting on Open Meeting law training for the chair of every town committee. Mr. Morris needs to read the current MA Open Meeting law.

5 Al Hamilton August 6, 2013 at 4:25 PM

The Planning Board is an independent elected Executive. The BOS has no authority over the Planning Board or its members, employees, or functions. They are elected and can only be removed by resignation or at the ballot box. The one exception, I believe, is the temporary appointment of an open position where the BOS and the remaining planning board meet to appoint a temporary member.

6 Rob August 7, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Does anyone else think that all the ongoing issues with the planning board should cause the town to look into the major and lower impact developments that they have recently approved?

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