Wastewater commission violated open meeting law

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State officials say that an Oak Bluffs commission violated open meeting law. - MV Times

State officials have determined that the Oak Bluffs wastewater commission violated Open Meeting Law.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government found that three emails dated June 26, June 28, and July 7 in 2023 from Oak Bluffs wastewater commissioner Cassandra Bowler to fellow members were considered deliberation outside of a posted meeting, and a violation.

The determination states that when a member of a “public body” expresses an opinion to a quorum of the public body, that is considered a deliberation, even if none of the other members respond.

“After reviewing the emails in question, we find that the emails expressed Commissioner Bowler’s thoughts and opinions regarding potential wastewater flow from a farmstand, a matter within the Commission’s jurisdiction,” the determination reads. “The Commission acknowledges that these emails constituted deliberation, in violation of the Open Meeting Law.”

As a result of the violation, the commission was required to make the emails a part of the public record of its meeting in which Notalot Farm Shop was discussed.

Bowler was also required to attend an Open Meeting Law training presented by the Attorney General’s Office. And the office cautioned that a similar violation in the future may be considered “evidence of an intentional violation of the Law.”

Julie Keefe, the owner of Notalot Farm Shop and who has filed litigation against the commission for not signing her occupancy permit, filed the open meeting law complaint with the state on Nov. 6, 2023. The dispute in the ongoing litigation in Dukes County Superior Court, is about wastewater flow allowance for the proposed Notlatot.

Outside of the open meeting law violations, Keefe also alleged to the state that the commission “regularly[,] improperly deliberates and the members make decisions outside of public meetings.”

The Attorney General’s Office declined to review those allegations since it lacked specificity.

“Although we do not formally review this allegation, based on our review of the emails provided, specifically those among commissioners as well as the request from the Wastewater Administrator that the Commissioners advise by email on how to proceed on a matter that was pending before the Commission, we note concern about discussion and decision-making outside of posted meetings, and remind the Commission of its obligations under the Open Meeting Law,” the determination reads.

The matter is deemed to be resolved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Keefe told The Times she had actually filed another Open Meeting Law complaint against the commission because of a lack of minutes online about the commission’s meetings relating to a change of water use, which she eventually received. “It took a few months,” she said.

A wastewater commission representative was not immediately available for comment.

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