By Keith Regan,
Westborough—The Board of Selectmen voted during its Oct. 12 meeting to release a year’s worth of executive session minutes, accounts of the meetings the board holds behind closed doors under certain exceptions from the state’s open meeting law.
The move came after Town Manager Jim Malloy realized the town hasn’t followed the Attorney General’s recommendations for occasionally releasing the minutes once items discussed in the secret sessions are resolved.
Malloy said he recently received a request for some of the minutes, though he did not specify which ones. He later realized while researching board meetings from the late 1960s—such as when the town adopted the strong fire chief statute being debated at Town Meeting on Oct. 19—that Westborough has not followed the recommended practice for releasing the minutes.
The minutes released deal with proceedings on issues that have since been resolved. They include a meeting during which the board set the amount of extra salary Police Chief Alan Gordon would receive while serving as interim Fire Chief.
Those minutes show some board members expressing anger at how the process of Gordon being named to wear both chief’s hats unfolded.
During the meeting on July 29, both Denny Drewry and Lydia Goldblatt expressed frustration at not being consulted earlier in the process of identifying Gordon as interim chief.
A contract amendment had already been reviewed by town counsel by the time the board took up the issue, Goldblatt noted. Both also expressed concern that retiring Fire Chief Walter Perron did not know about Gordon’s appointment, before the board took up the matter. Goldblatt said she could not support Gordon’s appointment to the position as a result of how it was handled, the minutes show.
Chair George Barrette acknowledged that he could have notified board members earlier but also said he “did not feel it is his responsibility to continually keep the board up to date” and emphasized that the matter was now before the board for a vote.
It took three attempts before a compromise was reached that would pay Gordon an additional $700 weekly, with the chief being allowed to work details only on as “as needed basis.”
Originally, Selectman Ian Johnson moved to pay the chief $1,000 weekly but only Johnson and Barrette supported that motion. (Four members were present; Selectman Tim Dodd was absent.) Drewry then suggested $500, but his motion failed to attract a second, which led to the compromise amount. The final vote was 3-1, with Goldblatt dissenting.
Other minutes released include a meeting where the board negotiated the severance package for former Town Counsel Gregory Franks and one where selectmen strategized about how to secure property at Westborough State Hospital and whether to hire a company to salvage any remaining valuable materials before vandals cleaned out the heavily trespassed buildings.
Another set, from June 9, shows the board declined to exercise the town’s right to claim by eminent domain a piece of property that a business owner needed to open a beauty school on Route 9. Malloy said he saw no public benefit and “the consensus of the board was not to get involved,” the minutes show.
Malloy said during the Oct. 12 meeting he would continue work backwards through the backlog of unreleased minutes, bringing them to the board in five-year increments for release votes. He noted the work of redacting minutes of items still ongoing is likely to get easier as the minutes get older.
“I imagine a lot of things from 1972 will already have worked themselves out,” he said.