Open Meeting Law memo from the AG’s Office

I don’t believe this is a scoop, since I’m one of the subjects of the memo, but the Attorney General’s Office has responded to Kevin Ksen’s and my Open Meeting Law complaints from last July.  I’ve posted the memo on Google Docs, and you can also find it on their website.

Because it’s been a long time since we initially filed the complaint, I’ll try to give a short timeline of what happened:

On the morning of June 26, 2012, Mike Lanava, the mayor’s chief of staff, sent an email to the City Council to see if anyone wanted to sign on to requesting the city manager draft a panhandling ordinance.  This item was not on the agenda of the June 26 meeting.

Mr. Ksen and I took issue with the way this was handled — both that the email might constitute serial communication and that the Council has a habit of not including important, controversial items on agendas — and filed Open Meeting Law complaint forms in time for the Council’s next meeting, which was held on July 17, 2012.

Mr. Ksen and I then waited months to receive a response.  We contacted the Attorney General’s Office for guidance on what to do, as the city had far exceeded the deadline of 14 business days.   The Attorney General’s Office let the city know that they needed to respond to us by October 17.  We finally received a response on October 22.  That response is covered in this Worcesteria post.

Ultimately, the decision of the Attorney General’s Office was that the city did not violate the Open Meeting Law in either of our complaints.

But wait!  There’s more!

One of our concerns — and one that came up again when the slots parlor was discussed before the City Council — was whether having councilors co-sponsor an item was a violation of Open Meeting Law.

This was the response of the Attorney General’s Office on page 3 of the memo:

City Solicitor David Moore writes in his October 22, 2012 memorandum to the City Manager that “[c]o-sponsoring items is a centuries-old legislative practice. On its face there is no attempt to solicit opinions or provoke a series of emails discussing the merits of the order. There is only an attempt to offer councilors the opportunity to co-sponsor the introduction of an item to the legislative body.” While we acknowledge that this practice has been in effect for many years, to the extent that such practice reaches a quorum of a body’s members, it does not comply with the current Open Meeting Law. If the Council wishes to announce the sponsors of an order at the time it is introduced, an individual who is not part of the Council, rather than a Councilor, may make the request for sponsorship. For example, the City Clerk or a Council administrator could send an email, blind carbon copying the Council members, attaching a specific piece of legislation and requesting sponsorships. That same staff person could then compile the sponsorships, and announce the result during a meeting. The results should not be made public prior to the meeting, however, including in a publicly-posted meeting notice. While the change is admittedly minor, it would enable the Council to compile sponsorship information without members conducting an improper poll outside of a meeting (which is deliberation). See OML 2011-35. Alternatively, a Council member who introduces an order can request sponsors during a meeting, or at a prior meeting before the order is introduced.

(More to come.)