Marlborough Councilor Elder urges changes be made to Open Meeting Law


Marlborough Councilor Elder urges changes be made to Open Meeting Law

To the Editor:

Marlborough – The date is Monday, Jan. 30, and the time is 8:15 p.m. A huge issue facing the city, a nearly $900,000 funding request for trash containers that will change the way everyone in the city disposes of their trash, is before the City Council Finance Committee. As a city councilor, I'se spoken out against this every chance I get. Even though I'se been elected twice by my constituents, I sit in the back of the council chambers, forced to be silent on the issue, as the Department of Public Works (DPW) commissioner and mayor speak to the committee.

Why you ask? Well, apparently my speaking at this publically posted meeting that is live on Marlborough TV would violate the state's Open Meeting Law. You know, the “law” that is in place to make sure governing body's don's do their work behind closed doors, to make sure everything is done open in the public, for all to see.

Yes, apparently we can violate the Open Meeting Law during a publically posted meeting that is shown live on TV. However, members of the Statehouse and Senate can meet on issues before their behind closed doors, without anyone knowing what is said, and it won's break the law. They just call it a caucus.

The hypocrisy behind the Open Meeting Law is staggering, and will negatively impact the city of Marlborough, and any other town or city in the state, if it isn's changed.

In September last year, the Massachusetts Senate was debating about Sen. Jamie Eldridge's “cooling off period,” which he wanted to implement so lawmakers couldn's work at casinos. During the debate, and after a few members angrily responded to Sen. Eldridge's amendment, Senate President Terry Murray called for an emergency caucus to discuss it.

So, the Senate can put a discussion on hold, go behind closed doors and discuss how they want to handle it, and then come back to vote. And I can's speak on a matter on live TV because it will violate the law.

Miraculously, after they discussed the issue behind closed doors and with no public record of their discussion, a vote was quickly taken, and a compromise to Sen. Eldridge's amendment was reached.

The hypocritical law was brought to the forefront last summer after Councilor-at-Large candidate Katie Robey filed a complaint to the attorney general that during budget discussions the council violated the law since most members attended the Finance Committee meeting to speak to department heads about the budget, a practice that's been going on for years.

Apparently Ms. Robey thought that six members of the council shouldn's be able to question department heads about how we make our $120 million plus budget. And apparently the attorney general's office agreed with her, ruling that members of the council can's attend subcommittee meetings if a quorum (majority) of the council is also there.

So, essentially Ms. Robey and the attorney general's office is slapping down the council from going above and beyond the calling of the job, as many of us try to do what's best for the city. For example, I's not on the Finance Committee, but as someone who is concerned with how taxes are spent, I usually attend to talk to department heads and my colleagues about matters before the Finance Committee.

The unintended consequence of this ruling is far reaching. For example, any ward councilor who isn's on the Urban Affairs subcommittee can's speak at the subcommittee meeting about an issue in his ward (as is the case with Ward 1Councilor Joe Delano not being able to speak as Marlborough Nissan tries to amend its special permit). The most senior member of the council, President Trish Pope, can's speak at any subcommittee meetings. And more than half of us can's discuss the city's finances as we transfer tens of millions of tax dollars among departments throughout the year.

I don's know or care why Ms. Robey filed a complaint against a body she was looking to work with for at least two years. What I do know is that the Open Meeting Law is a hypocritical law that picks and chooses who violates it. And right now, the attorney general's office has determined that we have violated it.

And for those of you wondering, I left Monday's Finance Committee meeting about halfway through the discussion that was eventually tabled. I couldn's sit there and listen to my colleagues discuss an issue I care so passionately about, all while not having the ability to speak on it.

Matt Elder, Ward 3 Councilor

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