Brockton residents who disagreed with the decision of the Brockton Water Commission to meet behind close doors after the Water Rally on August 30st took their case one step further by filing an Open Meeting Law Complaint. Many residents wanted to attend that meeting but were told that it was for an executive meeting and that the commission could have a closed door meeting because the criteria being used allowed public bodies to discuss potential firings and complaints lodged against employees, some residents after reviewing the minutes, believe the rules were violated.
After weeks of asking for the minutes the Water Commission gave a few residents a poorly copied CD of the meeting. BrocktonBeat has tried to remove the hissing and the poor quality of the tape but after 4 hours of trying, decided that it would be best to start a fundraiser so the Water Commission can have a new $40 digital recorder that will hold over 1000 hours of recording. The meeting is about an hour long and if you listen very carefully you will hear that the majority of the Commission is concerned about their public image and not about transparency to the residents of Brockton. They are more concerned about people who are trying to get out the real information about the water departments billing problems and keeping them silent and dealing with the media.
I think it is incredible with the Water Department in such disarray that the Commission can give the public for record a cheesy CD that a 1st grader could of done better with. Toward the end of the tape if you listen to it real closely a man on the commission says "I would not want what we just were doing here tonight in the newspaper for any reason."
Ossie Jordan, Jody Hickey, Bruce Malcolm and Margaret McGrath voted to have the closed door meeting. Patrick Quinn was the sole member who voted against having a closed door meeting.
Several residents have taken it upon themselves to fill out the complaint. Once it is completed one copy must be given to Brockton City Clerk and one to the Water Commission. Those governing bodies have 14 days to respond to the complaint, if they don't the residents can take it to the next level and inform the Attorney Generals Office and they can impose fines for the local governing bodies if they do not comply.
Many residents have speculated that the meeting was held because of all the negative media attention that has happened since the water crisis started and the meeting was more of a secret meeting in silencing certain public persons who have been outspoken about the water billing problems and also what to do about the media in the city of Brockton that have been investigating the billing procedures and practices and how to deal with them. BrocktonBeat has obtained a complaint form that has been filled out and the reasons why the meeting is illegal:
There are just 2 questions on the form that were answered:
"What action do you want the Public Body to take in reaction to your complaint?"
In response to this complaint, the Water Commission should take a vote that in no uncertain terms makes it clear that they now understand that the past Executive Session held on August 30st was a violation of the open meeting law. This vote should be unanimous. Additionally the Water Commission should agree to added training around Open Meeting Law to be given by the City of Brockton Solicitor's Office or a staff member of the Attorney Generals Office. Finally, the Water Commission should agree that any future Executive Sessions should only be scheduled after obtaining a written opinion from the City Solicitor's Office.
"Describe the alleged violation this complaint is about. If you believe this violation was intentional please explain why"
Not only was the Brockton Water Commission's Executive Session Meeting of August 30th a violation of Open Meeting Law, it can only be seen as intentional.
A City Councilor sent several e-mails to the Water Commission members, Water Department, City Solicitor’s Office and the Mayor’s Office expressing their belief that the meeting was a violation of open meeting law. These e-mails were sent on the Friday before the Tuesday meeting. This gave all parties enough time to look into their mistake.. Therefore, ignorance of the Executive Session law cannot be used as a reason for this being unintentional because the members should have looked deeper into the law after getting the warning from a City Councilor.
The Water Commission did not follow any of the Open Meeting Law's requirements about letting the public know why the meeting was being called.
Prior to the meeting, not one of the allowable exceptions was cited as the reason the meeting was being called. After the meeting a myriad of "reasons" were given for the meeting. Some can be read in the Enterprise article the "Brockton Water Commission holds closed-door meeting" .
A couple weeks after the Executive Session, the Chair of the Water Commission appeared before the City Council and reported that the meeting was about each of the Water Commissioners. If this was true, than when one member voted against going into Executive Session the meeting should have been held in public, as the law states. Also, none of the Water Commissioners were notified 48 hours prior to the meeting that the meeting was about them and none were notified or allowed to bring an attorney, as the law allows.
Now that the tape from this Executive Session has been released, it is obvious that the meeting was not about any of the allowable reasons for Executive Session. For most of the meeting members are bickering and occasionally discuss policy around a pending independent water audit.
Additionally, the members took a vote as to who would be the "spokes person" during the meeting and discussed, how to handle the media and to reprimand one member who was speaking to the newspaper, to tell him to be silent. This "behind closed door meeting" was about silencing one member and coming up with a plan for the media; none of these topics are allowable uses of the Executive Session.
Links to Open meeting law and the Complaint Process:
Open Meeting Law Complaint Process
Open Meeting Law Guide