A heated exchange broke out during last Thursday night’s Bourne Conservation Commission meeting between committee member Thomas L. Ligor and resident James A. Mulvey of Buzzards Bay. The crux of the argument was Mr. Mulvey’s charge that the commission had violated the state’s Open Meeting Law regarding deliberation during its meeting on March 20.
In a complaint Mr. Mulvey filed with the Office of State Attorney General Martha M. Coakley, he stated that the violations included but were not limited to “lack of specific information on the meeting notice” and “extensive deliberation all in violation of the Open Meeting Law.”
At the March 20 meeting, representatives from Pinnacle Site Contractors presented to the commission pictures and documents pertaining to a proposed beach erosion mitigation project designed to protect five homes on Indian Trail in Sagamore Beach. During last week’s meeting, Mr. Mulvey recalled that the commission questioned the contractors about the mitigation project, which led to a discussion about their plans. Mr. Mulvey told commission members that information regarding the project could not be exchanged because it was not on the agenda for that night; otherwise it would qualify as “deliberation.” He said that under the state law’s definition of deliberation, members cannot exchange conversation between each other on an item not posted to the meeting agenda, “never mind with an outsider.”
“I suggested at that time you take all the information you want without comment or deliberation, which would be perfectly proper,” he said.
Mr. Ligor took exception to Mr. Mulvey’s accusation. Mr. Ligor pointed out the updated Open Meeting Law Guide states that “the open meeting law applies when members of a public body communicate in a manner that seeks to evade application of the law.”
“In other words, you’re having a secret meeting. Was our meeting secret or not?” he said.
Mr. Mulvey agreed that the meeting was not secret, but he disagreed with Mr. Ligor that he had correctly interpreted the guide’s definition of “deliberation.”
“Look up deliberations and see their definition of deliberation,” Mr. Mulvey said.
“It says, ‘from the updated Open Meeting Law guide,’ ” Mr. Ligor said.
“There is the guide. Now read what it says in the guide,” Mr. Mulvey said.
“I just did, it’s right here, it’s where it comes from,” Mr. Ligor said.
“No, you didn’t. I said read the definition,” Mr. Mulvey said.
The appearance of the contractors before the commission was not on the March 20 agenda. Conservation agent Brendan C. Mullaney admitted that much of the blame rested with him. He said that he did not post the contractors’ appearance on the agenda because he thought there was not enough time to do so. The contractors had approached him the day of the meeting requesting to show photographs of the damage and the extent of the erosion in front of the homes. He said that he thought he needed 48 hours to amend the agenda but he has since been informed by town clerk Barry H. Johnson that if an unexpected issue comes up, a meeting agenda can be amended as soon as possible within the 48-hour timeframe.
“The contractors did come in and the commission was sort of blindsided by it since it wasn’t on the agenda,” Mr. Mullaney said.
Mr. Mullaney handed out copies of the Open Meeting Law Guide and said that he would be looking to take a class to get more educated on the Open Meeting Law.
Commission member Elizabeth R. Kiebala sided with Mr. Ligor. Ms. Kiebala said the commission only discussed how to proceed legally with the project since it involves town land under the care and custody of the conservation commission. She said that the only decision reached was to approach town counsel Robert S. Troy on the matter, and no vote was taken on the project itself.
“We didn’t even get into that because there was no proposal,” she said.
She added that because there was no vote taken on a proposal, the commission was not in violation.
With Mr. Mulvey and commission members remaining at loggerheads, commission chairman Robert M. Gray ended discussion of the issue and suggested that the group familiarize themselves with the Open Meeting Law. Mr. Gray said the matter will be resolved one way or another by the attorney general’s office.
“If there is a mistake, we learn from our mistakes. If there wasn’t a mistake, they’ll tell you that,” he said.