AG: Pittsfield failed to fully comply with Open Meeting Law on council postings
PITTSFIELD — The Attorney General's office upheld a citizen's complaint that the posting of City Council budget sessions in June did not fully comply with the Open Meeting Law for lack of an agenda.
Terry Kinnas, who in the past has filed other meeting law complaints against school and city boards, complained at a June 2 council session about the absence of agenda items attached to budget meeting notices posted online. Each of the four budget sessions were to review different city department budgets, and Kinnas said the public could not determine which items were to be discussed on which night.
"We find that the Council violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to include a listing of anticipated discussion topics in the notices for its June 2 and June 4 meetings," stated Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic in a letter to city officials. "We order the Council's immediate and future compliance with the Open Meeting Law, and caution the Council that similar future violation may be considered evidence of an intentional violation of the law."
The agenda items were included in postings outside the city clerk's office at City Hall, but not in the original posting on the Pittsfield website, which only listed the meeting dates. The agenda items were added later to the online posts.
However, that meant that a requirement for a version of postings must be available at all hours was not met, and the updated online version also was too late to allow the required 48 hours notice for the June 4 session, Sclarsic wrote.
"The Council should have canceled its June 4 meeting and reposted its notice, rather than update it with the anticipated discussion topics," he wrote.
However, in his conclusion in the Dec. 14 letter he says, "We now consider this matter closed."
City Council President Melissa Mazzeo, who received a copy of the letter, said in an email, "No, we don't have to do any meetings over," when asked if the early June budget meetings would have to be rescheduled. She said City Clerk Linda Tyer is in contact with the attorney general's office concerning the matter.
No final votes are typically taken during the budget sessions, with a final vote on the entire municipal budget taken later in June, the last month of the fiscal year.
Tyer said in an email that "a mistake was made by my office, and it was not intentional. In our defense we have literally hundreds of meeting postings every year and this is the first time since 2010, when the Open Meeting Law became effective, that a clerical error was made by my office."
The complete meeting notice was posted on a bulletin board outside her office, Tyer said, but the agendas were not initially included with the posting on the city's website calendar. Those two posting formats are meant to comply with the "at all hours" requirement of the Open Meeting Law, she said.
Tyer added that her office currently posts "notices in three places: on a bulletin board outside the city clerk's office, the city's website, and on an electronic bulletin board that has been placed in a window near the handicapped entrance to City Hall.
"As you can see from the attorney general's ruling," she said, "the city of Pittsfield has not notified the attorney general that Pittsfield has adopted an alternative posting location. I was unaware that this adoption and notification was required. I've learned something new from this ruling. At its first meeting in January, I am going to recommend that the City Council adopt an alternative posting location that will apply to all public bodies."
Tyer is leaving the clerk's position next year after being elected mayor in the Nov. 3 election. She will be sworn in for that post along with other city officials on Jan. 4.
Jody Phillips, who previously served as clerk prior to Tyer's tenure, was elected to another term as clerk and will take office in January.
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