Woburn case among most egregious in Open Meeting Law report

Library board members intentionally held two secret meetings

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey on Monday released a report summarizing her efforts to enforce the state’s Open Meeting Law last year, with one of the most egregious offenses occurring in Woburn.

Healey ruled in July that six members of the Woburn Public Library Board of Trustees held two illegal secret meetings during October the prior year where they hired a public relations firm and legal counsel to represent them in a messy fight over library staff layoffs.

Two members of the board who did not agree with the other board members were not invited to the secret meetings. Healey called the Woburn board’s violations of the Open Meeting Law intentional but did not impose any penalties on the violators because they resigned en masse when the illegal meetings came to light and the mayor moved to remove them.

“There is no more basic requirement of the Open Meeting Law than that meetings of public bodies be open to the public,” Healey stated.  “Even if these two meetings were not held with specific intent to violate the Open Meeting Law, then at the very least they were undertaken with deliberate ignorance of the law’s requirements.”

Healey’s report also said officials from four other municipalities — the Great Barrington Housing Authority, the Ashland Select Board, the Swansea Board of Selectmen, and the Malden City Council — intentionally violated the Open Meeting Law.

Violators could have been fined up to $1,000, but none received financial penalties. Instead, they were ordered to undergo training or, in Ashland’s case, told to comply with the law in the future.

The attorney general resolved a total of 350 Open Meeting Law complaints in 2021 through the issuance of determination and declination letters — 202 determination letters resolved 304 complaints and 29 declination letters resolved 46 complaints.  (Many Open Meeting Law complaints in 2021 allege more than one violation.)

A declination letter is one which declines to process a complaint for various reasons, including missing the deadline for filing a complaint and the entity being complained about is not a public body.

The most frequently occurring Open Meeting Law violations in 2021 were insufficiently specific meeting notices, failure to release meeting minutes, meetings not accessible to the public, and engaging in deliberations outside of a posted meeting.