The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office found the Falmouth Board of Health violated the Open Meeting Law when it discussed the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod's proposed needle exchange at its November 19 meeting.
In December, Falmouth residents Frances Parks, Marc P. Finneran and Michael G. Heylin all alleged the agenda for the Board of Health's November 19 agenda failed to provide sufficient detail regarding the proposed syringe access program.
Assistant Attorney General KerryAnne Kilcoyne agreed.
"Following our review, we find that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to include sufficient detail that the Board would be discussing and approving a syringe access program," Ms. Kilcoyne wrote in a September 16 letter to Falmouth Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy.
"Although the notice referenced the AIDS Support Group, the notice included no mention of the nature of the ASGCC's plans or of the type of project for which ASGCC would be seeking the Board's support," she wrote. "The meeting notice did not sufficiently alert members of the public that the Board would be discussing and approving a syringe access program—a topic that, no doubt, was the subject of immense public interest."
Mr. Heylin called for those involved in this matter to resign.
"The decision is that the Board of Health broke the law, the town counsel doesn't understand the law and no one seems to care," he said. "It is not a good situation when Mike Heylin, who runs a public access TV station, knows the law better than town counsel."
The November 19, 2018, Board of Health agenda stated the board would meeting with the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod at 6:30 PM. The agenda states the board would engage in "discussion of the AIDS Support Group's plans in Falmouth" and discuss "seeing a formal letter of support from the Board of Health."
Ms. Kilcoyne said the Board of Health "did not violate the Open Meeting Law by failing to include the location of the program on the notice."
Her letter states the board did not know the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod had chosen 178 East Falmouth Highway as its location for a proposed location of its syringe access program until the day of the meeting.
"Because the Board was not aware of the location until the day of the meeting, the chair could not have reasonably anticipated its discussion 48 hours prior to the meeting," she wrote. "Therefore, the Board did not violate the Open Meeting Law by failing to include the location of the program on the notice."
Though the board violated Open Meeting Law, the Attorney General's Office ordered "no further remedial action."
"We find that the Board acknowledged citizen's concerns after its November 19 vote, held a public hearing on January 12, 2019, and further reviewed the syringe access program during its February 13, 2019 meeting," Ms. Kilcoyne wrote.
Mr. Heylin said approximately 90 percent of those who spoke at that January meeting were opposed to a needle exchange at 178 East Falmouth Highway.
"All those people came to that meeting and said we don't want this, and the Board of Health said we don't care, we're working for ourselves at the AIDS Support Group," Mr. Heylin said.
"We should have somebody who knows that law and we should have appointed boards and officials who are working for everybody, not just themselves and their neighbors," he continued.
The three Open Meeting Law complaints also alleged that the Board of Health violated the law by not allowing public input at its November 19 meeting prior to approving the needle exchange.
"It is not a violation of the Open Meeting Law for a public body to vote on a topic without first taking comments from the public," Ms. Kilcoyne wrote.
Originally proposed for 178 East Falmouth Highway, near St. Anthony’s Church, the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod dropped those plans in January. In June, the group announced it will open a health clinic at Tataket Square, located on Teaticket Highway across from the Stop & Shop. The group will offer its syringe exchange program via a mobile outreach van.