At its Monday meeting, the Edgartown Select Board discussed how to respond to the state attorney general’s office after it was determined that three sets of the board’s executive session minutes were in violation of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
A complaint filed with the state by The Times last year argued that a number of meeting minutes received, following a record request to the town, were insufficiently detailed.
This comes after the board’s initial response to The Times claimed to not have found any “deficiency” in the minutes upon internal review, declining suggestions by The Times to redraft the documents.
“Following our review, we find that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by
approving insufficiently detailed minutes for executive sessions held at 3 pm on May 12, 2015, and on May 15 and 18, 2015,” a January notification letter sent to the select board by the attorney general’s office reads.
That letter ordered the Edgartown Select Board to “amend, to the best of its ability, the executive session minutes for [those] meetings.”
It also ordered the “immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law and caution the board that a determination by our office of a similar violation in the future may be considered evidence of intent to violate the Law.”
The initial inquiry, and later complaint, regarding Edgartown’s minutes are part of a greater investigation by The Times focused on select board executive sessions involving police officials and departments Island-wide. That initiative was prompted by other sets of minutes for the select board in Oak Bluffs that revealed details of a missing rifle.
Found to be in violation of the open meeting law by the attorney general’s office last year, the Oak Bluffs Select Board later decided to redraft its executive session minutes.
At Monday’s meeting, the Edgartown Select Board was asked by town administrator James Hagerty how they’d like to respond, and whether they’d like to make comments or adjustments to the minutes.
“If not, we can forward a letter to the secretary of the commonwealth saying that there’s no further amplifying information for those respective minutes,” he said.
“That was quite a while ago,” select board chair Margaret Serpa said. “We’ve had many meetings since then.”
She suggested the board “just say we don’t have any further information about those meetings, because we’re moving on.”
Select board member Michael Donaroma agreed.
“What I saw I thought explained what went on at the meeting fairly well,” he said. “[They’re] short, all those meetings. I don’t have anything to add that I know of that would make any difference, for sure.”
The board took no vote, and Hagerty said he’d work on formulating a response letter to the state.
In other business, Hagerty noted pending legislation that would allow municipalities to continue remote meetings until 2025.
But because that extension is not yet set in stone, Hagerty said he’s suggested to town board and committee members to “plan accordingly,” and prepare for a return to in-person meetings starting April 1: “We need to remain flexible,” he said, and “plan ahead.”
If it is decided by the state to hold in-person meetings, the town would still accommodate a Zoom component, Hagerty said.
In what he referred to as the “remote paradigm,” Hagerty said he feels the teleconference option for municipal meetings has been “extremely effective and beneficial.” He said he’s seen an increase in participation “from off-Island to various parts of Edgartown, to seasonal residents, to people who just want to listen to what’s going on.”
He noted that Edgartown is the only town in which the select board holds meetings that are solely remote via Zoom.
Also on Monday, select board members were given a brief update on the condition of Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick — the infamous bridge often associated with the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who had been a passenger in the car former Senator Ted Kennedy drove into the water.
Hagerty said it’s likely that the bridge and surrounding area will need to undergo repairs, after being affected by recent high winds and weather.
“It might be an emergency repair situation,” he said. That work would include repairs to the bridge’s bulkhead, and making sure there’s ample sand pack prior to the heavily trafficked seasons at Wasque, Leland Beach, and Cape Poge.
He said he plans on working with the Trustees of Reservations, who, with the town, manage the bridge.