The OML and Me

I consider myself a responsible and law-abiding person. I tend to err on the conservative side in terms of legal interpretations and do not “push the envelope” on tax savings or other manoeuvers that some might label “shrewd” or “clever”. I am that way, because I like to sleep peacefully at night without nightmares about my possible assignment to involuntary residence in a penal colony.  So, I bear the responsibility of upholding the spirit and letter of a difficult legislative imposition on my behavior whose legal purpose is to clear smoke-filled rooms where deals were once struck outside of the public’s sight and to move those deals to the open chambers of transparent, properly noticed meeting places where municipal sausage can be made, out loud, in full sight of all who care to watch or listen. Voters can then re-elect or “can” the sausage makers if they don’t like what they see.

That legal burden is the Open Meeting Law. It applies to elected officials in Cities and Towns, and their Commissions, Councils, Boards and Committees, (whether appointed or elected) and their sub-committees, etc. The Law is noble in its purpose, but rankles in its coverage. Our wise State Legislators have imposed it on local officials in the State, but, more cunningly than wisely, have excluded themselves from its purview, in a move reminiscent of the healthcare exceptions made by and for our national leadership while they imposed less generous healthcare programs on the rest of us!

On Village 14, there have been many threads on which I have been silent. Not because I don’t have an opinion. I have learned many facts since becoming a member of the Proto-Waban Area Council during its formation and many more since serving and continuing to serve as the Area Council’s first President. I have learned that there are some very knowledgeable people who understand the intricacies of the Open Meeting Law and some others whose opinions and actions might expose them to complaints of OML infractions to the Attorney General. I consult the resources I recognize as knowledgeable when I have a question.

The Attorney General has not yet ruled on whether conversations on a blog are OML violations. In my conservative approach to the interpretation of this Law, I will not speak out on issues that I believe are of either known or possible interest to the Waban Area Council, since I am a member of that Council and might have the opportunity to deliberate on an issue which I have discussed in public view.

I believe that the legal determination that has resulted in others speaking on local blogs about their decisions is shaky and questionable. My reasoning: even if only one member of a Board, Committee or Commission speaks, the others would be able to read the single blogger’s thoughts and to be influenced in a non-public (“non-noticed”) setting. (Definition: Under the OML, a non-noticed meeting is one that has not been legally publically announced with an attached agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting occurs.) Until the Attorney General rules otherwise, I will continue to behave cautiously and with restraint on the blogs. But, if you want to know my opinion, ask me in private…not in an e-mail or a blog and not with a recorder in hand! Then I can throw off the shackles of OML and tell you what I really think! If you are not on a local public body that will deliberate on the OML, feel free to tell me what you think of the OML!

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9 Comments on "The OML and Me"

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Jerry Reilly

I certainly respect and understand your desire to be very careful not to fall afoul of OMG. That being said, i have,a hard time seeing how an individual expressing an opinion on a blog could run afoul of OMG. Now if you had a number of members of the same board discussing an issue on the blog that might be a bit more problematic.

Even then though, there’s no private dealing. It’s all in a public forum where everyone can see – i.e transparent

That of course is just my common sense take on OMG. Common sense is often not the best guide to the law.

Lynne LeBlanc

The comments on blogs by members of deliberating boards seems problematic to me for two reasons: 1) the neutral ‘fact finding’ mission seems to have slipped into less neutral territory when opinions or perspectives are expressed and 2) the information and deliberation by board members at meeting is locate-able in the minutes or recordings of meetings but one must know where to look (or even just know to look) if comments (neutral or otherwise) are posted on some other public forum.
Perhaps a solution would be to make public comments available to a whole community by including them in any record keeping of a board?

Lynne LeBlanc

In this way, the scrutiny afforded topics and comments in publicly recorded meetings (as per OML) could apply to all public comments made by board members.

neal Fleisher

Salle: an extension of your thinking would stop you from commenting to a news reporter, as your position on a matter would be known to the other members once they read the paper, or see it on the news.
It seems a bit of stretch, if a single member were to comment. If a majority were to have a conversation on a blog, I think it would be a big concern.

Julia Malakie

This question is of great interest to me, as I not only serve on an appointed commission (albeit one with no budget and no binding authority, the Urban Tree Commission), but I also work for a newspaper. So I appreciate the OML (not OMG — was that autocorrect or a freudian slip?) from that perspective. So I also wish the attorney general would clarify the rules here, and don’t know what to make of the fact that none have. I share Sallee’s concern but agree with Neil’s point about the analogy to speaking to a newspaper reporter. Plenty of elected and appointed officials are quoted in the Tab. Does an OML violation occur if another member of the body reads the article? I don’t think so. Is a blog the same? I’m not sure. Does it matter that blogs are online and not everyone has access to the Internet? Does it make a difference if an interview is in a newspaper delivered free (e.g. Tab) vs one that people have to pay for?

And is every exchange of opinion a deliberation, or does it have to be about something that will be voted on? Sorry, a lot more questions than answers.

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