A crash of the Town of Bourne website forced cancellation of a number of board and committee meetings this week.
As of late Tuesday access to the website had been restored, but meetings that were scheduled for Monday,February 24, Tuesday, February 25, and Wednesday, February 26, were all postponed so the town could comply with the state’s Open Meeting laws.
The town’s website went down early Monday morning and remained inaccessible throughout the day. Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi, after consulting with Town Clerk Barry H. Johnson, sent an email on Monday announcing the cancellations.
Mr. Schiavi said the sessions could not be held because the Open Meeting Law requires posting 48 hours prior to the start of the meeting. An email from the state Attorney General’s Division of Open Government to town officials noted that if the website goes down within 48 hours of a meeting—not including weekend days and legal holidays—the website must be restored to accessibility within six hours, during regular business hours, after the crash has been discovered.
“In the event that the website is not restored to accessibility within six business hours of the website’s deficiency being discovered,” the AG’s office stated, “the public body must re-post notice of its meetings for another date and time.”
Cancellations on Monday included a 6 PM meeting of the board of selectmen, and a 7 PM joint meeting of the selectmen and the finance committee to review Fiscal Year 2021 budgets for several town departments. The town also cancelled a Tuesday night meeting of the board of sewer commissioners.
The site was reachable Tuesday, but accessibility was sporadic for most of the day. When the problems continued into Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that all meetings scheduled for Wednesday would also be cancelled.
The AG office’s memo noted that a brief restoration of service “does not suffice to re-start the 6-hour period” requirement.
The decision to cancel Wednesday’s meetings was reversed late Tuesday afternoon after unhampered accessibility to the website was finally restored. The town administrator’s office said a scheduled meeting of a board of sewer commissioners subcommittee would be held Wednesday evening.
Less than an hour later, it was announced that the meeting would not be held because the administrator’s office had already announced the cancellation.
Judith M. Froman, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said the budget reviews and sewer commission business can all be added to meetings scheduled for next week. Ms. Froman pointed out that if the selectmen had a highly critical decision to address, she could have called for an emergency meeting.
“The most time-sensitive agenda topic was the public hearing for the Buzzards Bay Brewery pouring permit,” she said. “We are required by law to post the hearing 10 days ahead, and unfortunately this delayed their license.”
The AG’s memo also pointed out that if a town adopts its website as its official method of posting notices, it is how all meeting notices must be posted. Other notice posting methods, such as a community bulletin board, however wide-reaching they may be, cannot replace web posting during a website outage, the AG said.
Similar website issues were experienced by the Town of Mashpee through much of the day on Monday. Both Bourne and Mashpee use the same government website design company, CivicPlus.
But Mashpee Town Clerk Deborah Dami said the website outage would not impact meeting scheduling in that town, because Mashpee does not use the website as the official posting board.
Ms. Froman was asked if she thinks Bourne should consider adopting a different official notice posting source, given the potential for power outages affecting the website. She said the use of the website has resulted in “efficiencies and higher productivity.”
She added that “it is important to review and put in place systems to minimize issues.”
“The unexpected disruptions,” she said, “are a main reason why I have been working with the town and citizens on planning ahead, so that we minimize harried decisions being made last minute.”
Finance committee chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo said cancellation of Monday’s meeting was “not a big problem.” Ms. Mastrangelo said she has rescheduled all the department heads who were going to appear before the committee to various meetings in March.
She added that committee meetings have often been canceled due to weather issues, such as snowstorms.