UPDATED, July 3: As Arlington moved toward filling open positions among those who decide property assessments, a former Redevelopment Board member seeking better transparency in town government has filed a further complaint alleging secrecy.
Chris Loreti filed an appeal on June 26 seeking to learn more about the April resignation of John B. Speidel, the director of assessments since 2011.
"The actions of the Board [of Assessors] were taken in total secrecy," Loreti wrote to Shawn A. Williams, supervisor of the state records office. "The Board held no public meetings (in either open or executive session) related to ending Mr. Speidel’s employment.
"It made no public announcement that Mr. Speidel had ceased to be employed by the town, and it has refused requests by the press to explain why he is no longer a town employee. Mr. Speidel was simply disappeared by the Board of Assessors."
On Tuesday, July 1, the assessors and selectmen chose a new representative on the Board of Assessors from five candidates. He was Robert Greeley. The opening occurred May 21, when longtime member Jim Doherty resigned.
Finalists for director down to 3
On Thursday, July 3, Caryn Molloy, town personnel director, said the screening committee has recommended three of the 14 candidates for interview by the full Board of Assessors in public session.
"We should have a confirmed list of names that have agreed to move on to the next step in the process by end of business Monday," she wrote.
Andrew Flanagan, the deputy town manager, will be coordinating the final details.
She wrote June 25 that the screening committee might recommend five people and then one might decline a public interview. "I would just want the candidates to confirm and be clear about agreeing to a public interview before I release their names," she wrote.
On the screening committee are town Treasurer Stephen Gilligan, Deputy Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, Board of Assessors' Chairman Kevin Feeley and Molloy. "We met earlier this week to review resumes and will be conducting interviews next week [June 30 and after]," she wrote.
Asked July 3 about the how the screening committee was devised, she wrote that it was formed under Feeley's leadership but with her consultation. She said the discussions about the makeup of the committee were not done in a public meeting.
Earlier, she declined to comment about Loreti's Open Meeting Law complaints, deferring to Feeley. He has not responded to a request for comment about that issue, but Town Doug Heim has.
Town counsel comments on one complaint
Heim responded June 25, before Loreti had filed his latest complaint, alleging secrecy. He is commenting with respect to earlier complaints about the Board of Assessors' alleged failure to post many sets of meeting minutes this year.
"Without addressing the substance of this particular complaint, I note that the Board of Assessors has fourteen (14) business days to examine the allegations made by Mr. Loreti, determine whether remedial actions, if any, are appropriate, and provide a response to the allegations both to Mr. Loreti and the Division of Open Government. Hence, the Board and its office will take a look and a response will be issued accordingly."
The same rules would apply to the complaint filed June 26, which is detailed below.
Meanwhile, when selectmen and assessors meet July 1, they are expected to vote on one candidate among five under consideration for the open Board of Assessors' seat. YourArlington can identify four of the candidates. They are:
-- Robert Greeley, brother of Selectman Kevin Greeley and director of assessments for the town for 24 years until he retired in April 2011:
-- Patrick J. Quinn, who owns the Quinn Group Insurance Agency;
-- Stephen P. Reynolds, an attorney who works as a real-estate appraiser; and
-- Michael Stern, publisher of information about venture capital and the private-equity industry.
Marie Krepelka, board administrator for the selectmen, has declined to name the other three candidates. Krepelka has said that if Bob Greeley remains a candidate at the time of the board vote, Kevin would have to recuse himself.
Only one candidate for board responds at length
The four YourArlington can identify were asked for comment, but only Stern has responded at length. Reynolds wrote June 30 that he had been on vacation and that his candidacy was acknowledged just that day.
Loreti said June 24 that he had received the Board of Assessors' minutes he had requested June 2.
Asked why he seeks those minutes, Loreti wrote June 19: "I wanted to find out if the minutes of the Board of Assessors shed any light on John Speidel's departure. At the time I made my request at the beginning of June, only two sets of minutes had been posted for all of 2014. I requested the minutes for all of the other 2014 meetings, in either draft or approved form, but didn't receive any response."
Text of latest complaint
Finding nothing about the Speidel resignation in the newly posted minutes, Loreti filed a new complaint June 26. It says:
"I am writing to request that the office of the Supervisor of Records open an appeal of the response I received to the public records request I made to the Town of Arlington Board of Assessors and Arlington’s Director of Human Resources on June 2, 2014. Copies of that records request, which, I made via email and the response I received to it on June 5, 2014 (from the Director of Human Resources) are attached to this letter. While I appreciate the timely response to my request, the liberal interpretation of what constituted a responsive record, and the waiver of any fees, I am making this request because I believe the redactions in the document provided are excessive and inconsistent with the Public Records Law.
"I believe it is important for you to understand the context of my records request in order to appreciate the need for you to act on my appeal. The Arlington Board of Assessors is a three-member elected board which is responsible for hiring a full-time Director of Assessments for the town. On April 16 of this year, the Board Chair signed a separation agreement Mr. John Speidel, who was then the Director of Assessments.
"The actions of the Board were taken in total secrecy. The Board held no public meetings (in either open or executive session) related to ending Mr. Speidel’s employment. It made no public announcement that Mr. Speidel had ceased to be employed by the town, and it has refused requests by the press to explain why he is no longer a town employee. Mr. Speidel was simply disappeared by the Board of Assessors.
"Indeed, it was not until June 11 and June 12, almost two months after his departure, that the local press even reported that Mr. Speidel was gone."
Claims 'sharp contrast'
"The information provided by the town in this case is in sharp contrast to that provided in the past. When the Board of Selectmen ended the employment of a past Town Manager, it was made public that his termination was as a result of his misuse of a town computer. When the Superintendent of School ended the employment of a teacher and principal, the reasons given for their termination were also made public. Thus the claimed need to protect Mr. Speidel’s privacy put forth by town officials appears to be specious.
"I believe the excessive redactions in the document provided are more likely an attempt to protect the Board of Assessors from public scrutiny than to protect Mr. Speidel’s privacy interests.
"For example, Paragraph 7 of the responsive document makes reference to a 'disciplinary proceeding' described in Paragraph 2, which is entirely redacted. Any such proceeding would have had to have taken place in accordance with the state’s Open Meeting Law."
[A footnote at this point says: "It is recognized that enforcement of the Open Meeting Law is the responsibility of the Attorney General and not the Supervisor of Records. For that reason I have filed and Open Meeting Law complaint against the Board of Assessors for acting outside of public meetings to end Mr. Speidel’s employment, and I would be happy to provide a copy to you. I do request, however, that the Supervisor of Records not allow the town to hide any evidence of an Open Meeting Law violation in any of the redactions in the document provided."]
"By redacting this paragraph in its entirety, the public cannot tell when this proceeding took place, and who among the Board of Assessors attended, or if that information is even in the paragraph. If it is, revealing this sort of administrative information in no way compromises Mr. Speidel’s privacy interests. Redacting it, however, potentially shields the Board of Assessors from claims that they did not act in accordance with the law. Clearly, that is not the purpose of the Public Records Law exemption cited by the town.
"It is also possible that the excessive redactions in the responsive document are an attempt to shield the members of Board of Assessors from potential claims of acting with a conflict of interest or with the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"Following the termination of Mr. Speidel’s employment, and during the period in which the town was accepting applications for his replacement, one of the members of Board of Assessors resigned. Both of the news stories cited above raised the question of whether this Board member resigned so that he could apply for position formerly held by Mr. Speidel. (And both news reports indicate that this former Board member refuses to speak to them to confirm or deny whether he applied for the position.)
"It should be no surprise that the intentions of the former Board member are a matter of intense public interest. If he did in fact resign in order to be hired by his former Board colleagues (possibly along with a newly appointed Board member), then both his role in ending Mr. Speidel’s employment and that of his personal attorney, who is also a member of the Board of Assessors, are legitimate matters for public disclosure, which again in no way compromise Mr. Speidel’s privacy interests. The town should not be allowed to hide any information related to these questions by abusing the privacy exemption of the Public Records law.
"I hope I have made clear in this letter that it is not my intention to in any way compromise Mr. Speidel’s privacy. At the same time, I believe it essential that the public be able to have confidence that members of public bodies are acting with integrity and in full accordance with the law. In order to ensure that that is the case with Arlington’s Board of Assessors, I respectfully request that your office conduct an in camera review of an unredacted copy the document provided in response to my public records request and then to order the town to remove the redactions to the maximum extent possible under the law while protecting Mr. Speidel’s interests."
Loreti has filed complaints under the Open Meeting Law, the first seeking minutes and a second complaint regarding the Speidel agreement.
He has also filed an appeal with the Supervisor of Records office, asking to review the settlement agreement Speidel.
June 11: Background behind assessor openings
This story was published Saturday, June 28, 2014, and updated July 3.
Correction: YourArlington previously reported a total of seven candidates for the Board of Assessors. There were five.
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