The public's business

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A quick-and-dirty guide to Massachusetts' Open Meeting and Public Records laws.

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The public's business

  1. 1. The public’s business A quick-and-dirty guide toMassachusetts’ Open Meeting and Public Records laws
  2. 2. To benefit the public• No special treatment for reporters• Students have the same rights as everyone else
  3. 3. Open Meeting Law• Most states have one
  4. 4. Open Meeting Law• Most states have one• Guarantees access to most government meetings
  5. 5. Open Meeting Law• Most states have one• Guarantees access to most government meetings• Doesn’t cover state Legislature
  6. 6. Scope• All meetings of governmental body, board, committee or subcommittee
  7. 7. Scope• All meetings of governmental body, board, committee or subcommittee• To discuss any public-policy matter within board’s jurisdiction, even if no decision is made
  8. 8. Scope• All meetings of governmental body, board, committee or subcommittee• To discuss any public-policy matter within board’s jurisdiction, even if no decision is made• A quorum of members must be present for law to apply
  9. 9. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance
  10. 10. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance• Notice period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays
  11. 11. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance• Notice period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays• Emergency provision
  12. 12. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance• Notice period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays• Emergency provision – Unexpected circumstances
  13. 13. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance• Notice period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays• Emergency provision – Unexpected circumstances – Demanding immediate action
  14. 14. Notice• Filed in the city or town clerk’s office and posted at least 48 hours in advance• Notice period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays• Emergency provision – Unexpected circumstances – Demanding immediate action – To preserve the public interest
  15. 15. Records• Minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, must be made public
  16. 16. Records• Minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, must be made public• Some records are “exempt from disclosure” under the state Public Records Law
  17. 17. Records• Minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, must be made public• Some records are “exempt from disclosure” under the state Public Records Law – Privacy, including library records
  18. 18. Records• Minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, must be made public• Some records are “exempt from disclosure” under the state Public Records Law – Privacy, including library records – Ongoing bids
  19. 19. Records• Minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, must be made public• Some records are “exempt from disclosure” under the state Public Records Law – Privacy, including library records – Ongoing bids – Other common-sense exemptions
  20. 20. Executive session• Purpose must be announced
  21. 21. Executive session• Purpose must be announced• Roll-call vote in open session
  22. 22. Executive session• Purpose must be announced• Roll-call vote in open session• Majority of entire body, not merely of those present
  23. 23. Executive session• Purpose must be announced• Roll-call vote in open session• Majority of entire body, not merely of those present• Minutes must be released as soon as need for secrecy ends
  24. 24. Ten lawful purposes
  25. 25. 1. Personal reputation• To discuss personal reputation, character, physical condition or mental health
  26. 26. 1. Personal reputation• To discuss personal reputation, character, physical condition or mental health• Executive session not permitted to discuss professional competence
  27. 27. 1. Personal reputation• To discuss personal reputation, character, physical condition or mental health• Executive session not permitted to discuss professional competence• No private performance reviews
  28. 28. 2. Discipline• To consider discipline, dismissal or to hear complaints against an individual
  29. 29. 2. Discipline• To consider discipline, dismissal or to hear complaints against an individual• Individual must be notified in advance
  30. 30. 3. Litigation and negotiation• To discuss city or town’s strategy in collective bargaining or litigation
  31. 31. 3. Litigation and negotiation• To discuss city or town’s strategy in collective bargaining or litigation• To conduct contract negotiations with nonunion personnel
  32. 32. 3. Litigation and negotiation• To discuss city or town’s strategy in collective bargaining or litigation• To conduct contract negotiations with nonunion personnel• To conduct collective bargaining or to hear grievances as required by bargaining agreement
  33. 33. 3. Litigation and negotiation• To discuss city or town’s strategy in collective bargaining or litigation• To conduct contract negotiations with nonunion personnel• To conduct collective bargaining or to hear grievances as required by bargaining agreement• Litigation may not be settled in private
  34. 34. 4. Security• To discuss the deployment of security personnel
  35. 35. 5. Criminal misconduct• To investigate criminal misconduct
  36. 36. 6. Real estate• To consider or negotiate real-estate transactions if open session may have detrimental effect
  37. 37. 7. To comply with law• To comply with another law that requires an executive session, such as privacy
  38. 38. 8. Preliminary screening• To screen applicants for a position at a preliminary level
  39. 39. 8. Preliminary screening• To screen applicants for a position at a preliminary level• Finalists must be interviewed in public session
  40. 40. 8. Preliminary screening• To screen applicants for a position at a preliminary level• Finalists must be interviewed in public session• How can we tell the difference?
  41. 41. 9. Mediation• To meet or confer with a certified mediator, provided that:
  42. 42. 9. Mediation• To meet or confer with a certified mediator, provided that: – Decision to participate in mediation is decided in open session
  43. 43. 9. Mediation• To meet or confer with a certified mediator, provided that: – Decision to participate in mediation is decided in open session – Parties involved and purpose of mediation disclosed before mediation
  44. 44. 9. Mediation• To meet or confer with a certified mediator, provided that: – Decision to participate in mediation is decided in open session – Parties involved and purpose of mediation disclosed before mediation – Any issues subject to mediation be deliberated in open session afterward
  45. 45. 10. Trade secrets• A new provision• “To discuss trade secrets or confidential, competitively-sensitive or other proprietary information” under certain circumstances
  46. 46. Public Records Law• “[A]ll books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations or other documentary materials or data regardless of physical form or characteristics” that are made or received by state, county and municipal offices. A reasonable fee may be charged. — Longmeadow Town Counsel David Martel
  47. 47. Police records• Records most often sought by reporters
  48. 48. Police records• Records most often sought by reporters• Log of incidents must be made public
  49. 49. Police records• Records most often sought by reporters• Log of incidents must be made public• Log must include names and addresses of those arrested and charges against them
  50. 50. Police records• Records most often sought by reporters• Log of incidents must be made public• Log must include names and addresses of those arrested and charges against them• Incident reports are not public if disclosure would harm investigation
  51. 51. Real-life dilemmas• Before the meeting, a rolling quorum gathers out back. What should you do?
  52. 52. Real-life dilemmas• The City Council is about to go into executive session. You believe its reasons are illegal. – What should you do at the meeting? – What should you do the next day?
  53. 53. Real-life dilemmas• School Committee members want to screen 25 applicants for curriculum director in executive session. Can they?
  54. 54. Real-life dilemmas• School Committee members want to screen 25 applicants for curriculum director in executive session. Can they?• School Committee members want to interview five candidates for curriculum director in executive session. Can they?
  55. 55. Real-life dilemmas• A School Committee member tips you off that his colleagues are discussing business via email. What should you do?
  56. 56. Enforcement• Open Meeting Law – Attorney general’s office
  57. 57. Enforcement• Open Meeting Law – Attorney general’s office – Punishment provisions are weak
  58. 58. Enforcement• Open Meeting Law – Attorney general’s office – Punishment provisions are weak• Public Records Law – Custodian of public records (local)
  59. 59. Enforcement• Open Meeting Law – Attorney general’s office – Punishment provisions are weak• Public Records Law – Custodian of public records (local) – Supervisor of public records in the secretary of state’s office
  60. 60. Credits and resources• Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett• For further information: – http://1.usa.gov/sBxQ1o

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