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Agenda-setting errors made before Oct. 9 meeting, chair says

Harrington reduces earlier request for 900 emails, town counsel says

UPDATE, Nov. 25: The School Committee, through a statement read by Chairman Bill Hayner, has said an email about a Community Preservation Act agenda item in October should not have been sent to the entire committee, a violation of the state Open Meeting Act.

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"After examination of the complaint, we believe the subject e-mail, as well as an e-mail response from the Chair," Hayner told the committee Nov. 13 following a 15-minute closed session, "should not have been transmitted as they were, and the CPA discussion should have either been removed by the Chair based on individual and separate member objections, or tabled at an open meeting by a member motion."

Stephen Harrington, a Precinct 13 Town Meeting member, filed the complaint citing an email to the whole board two days before the Oct. 9 meeting by committee member Cindy Starks, who objected to Hayner's placing discussion of the preservation act on that agenda. Subsequently, Hayner removed the item.

Hayner had been chairman of the group opposing the act. The six other School Committee members supported the act.

Cost estimate for 900 emails put at $50,000

Harrington also sought as many as 900 emails sent among committee members since last January. Diane Johnson, the schools' chief financial officer, estimated the time involved in researching and vetting the emails by legal counsel would cost $50,000.

"Because we are in negotiations, we would have to be very careful about what got released to the public," she wrote Nov. 20. "Having our labor counsel review 900 emails, assuming 15 minutes per email, would cost nearly that much. The rest of the cost would be the staff time to extract the emails.

"Of course, this is an estimate. If the request were to be continued, we would keep track of actual time and adjust the costs accordingly."

She noted that Harrington had reduced his request and that Town Counsel Doug Heim is handling that. Asked to comment Nov. 20 and 23, Heim responded Monday, Nov. 24, noting that Harrington's initial request was to obtain all emails among a quorum of School Committee members over the course of a year.

"Logistically, a wide net needed to be cast in order to first identify all potentially responsive emails and then to confirm responsiveness," he wrote.

After the original estimate of $50,000 was sent to Harrington, town counsel wrote that he discussed it with him. The aim was to decide "what could be done to reasonably provide him the information he wanted, but also reduce the universe of potentially responsive emails.

"Ultimately, a request was made for emails between all seven members of the School Committee over the course of the year, which yielded a smaller universe of potentially responsive emails."

Heim wrote that he does not yet have an estimate for the cost of reviewing the smaller number of emails "to confirm for responsiveness and for appropriateness of disclosure under public records laws."

'Lie' alleged in Truepersons.com post 

In an update to a post at Truepersons.com, Harrington wrote that Johnson had not asked him to reduce the scope of his request for emails and that she was "lying." He also chided The Advocate reporter for requesting comment, writing that it was an attempt to present conflicting views.

The statement that Hayner read continues: "A committee member may individually write or speak with the Chair regarding addition or removal of an item from an agenda under the Open Meeting Law. However, a member (including the chair) may not address a quorum of members, by e-mail or otherwise, on any public business under our jurisdiction outside of an open meeting or executive session, unless it is a purely administrative communication.

"The School Committee is committed to following the rules of the Open Meeting Law and acknowledges the errors made in this instance.

"It can be a close, difficult question at times between what is administrative and what is substantive, even on matters such as what should, or should not be on an agenda.

"Therefore, this Committee’s members will endeavor to make sure that any future objections to an agenda item, even upon administrative grounds, are solely expressed from one member to the Chair and not amongst a quorum, and further, to examine its agenda-setting process generally to ensure both efficient and transparent governance."

A quorum is a majority of members in a public body; in the case of the School Committee, the number for a quorum is four.

YourArlington made numerous requests for the text of Hayner's statement, beginning Nov. 14, but officials finally provided it later on Nov. 20.

Harrington has not responded to a Nov. 14 YourArlington request for comment about this issue. He has not responded to a number of requests for comment from YourArlington made over a number of years.


Harrington's updated view of the issue (Truepersons.com

Nov. 20 Advocate story, including correction


This story was published Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, and updated the next day as well as Nov. 25.

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