Pittsfield School Committee member Kinnas pushes Open Meeting Law complaint

Friday December 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- School Committee member Terry Kinnas says he intends to follow up on an Open Meeting Law complaint he filed against a Reid Middle School Council subcommittee by forwarding it to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Kinnas, who has announced a campaign to bring Pittsfield Public Schools fully into compliance with meeting law provisions, said a 30-day wait period for the referral will end soon, and he "definitely" will pass the complaint on to the attorney general for review.

Thus far in the process, Kinnas formally notified officials at Reid School on Nov. 16 and took a copy of the complaint paperwork to the City Clerk’s office, as required. The meeting in question took place on Nov. 14.

Thirty days after a Dec. 3 written response to Kinnas’s complaint was filed by Reid School Council Community Outreach Subcommittee Chairwoman Julia Sabourin, if the matter has not been settled between the parties, his complaint could be sent to the AG’s office for possible action.

That office could ask city officials for more information before deciding whether the complaint is justified. Penalties could include fines of up to $1,000.

"I’ll definitely file at the 30-day limit," said Kinnas, who added he is not satisfied with the response to his complaint. "The AG could then make a determination."

The complaint stems from a Nov. 14 meeting of the school council subcommittee, which Kinnas attended. He said he arrived for a 3 p.m. meeting and found the school doors locked and no information posted on how to gain access or find the meeting room. After being let inside after five to seven minutes by someone leaving, Kinnas said he had trouble finding the meeting room.

The response to his complaint filed with the city clerk’s office by Sabourin listed steps taken after Nov. 14 to address issues raised. It stated in part, "Our actions should in no way be construed as agreement with the accuracy or substance of Mr. Kinnas’ claims, but only as a show of good faith on our part."

She said the subcommittee re-posted the agenda and met again on Nov. 21 to replicate activities and actions of the prior meeting; will place signs for all school council meetings in the Reid main office; ensure that Reid staff members are aware when doors should be left unlocked; and have signs posted on the front door concerning all meetings.

Relative to the Open Meeting Law complaint, Reid school council members filed a complaint about Kinnas with the Pittsfield School Committee. After an airing of the issues on Dec. 12, with several of the school council members in attendance, the school committee voted 5-1 with Kinnas opposed to reprimand him over alleged harassing treatment of school employees and volunteers.

Several speakers said Kinnas acted in a threatening manner and spoke angrily in informing the council subcommittee that he thought they were in violation of meeting law provisions. He said the depiction was inaccurate and the complaint unfounded.

Kinnas said Wednesday that his goal is "to make sure everyone is trained to follow the state law. They are supposed to go through training."

The councils, he said, have a role in shaping the school budget and fill other roles that make adherence to the meeting law an important issue.

During the Dec. 12 meeting, council members told Kinnas he had discouraged them from participating with the volunteer councils in their school and they felt insulted and threatened by his behavior and words.

In addition to the initial complaint, Kinnas later filed meeting law complaints about school council subcommittee meetings on Nov. 21 and Dec. 3, saying the sessions were not posted with the city clerk 48 hours in advance.

Robert Douglas, a member of the Reid Council, said steps have been taken to ensure formal notice of meetings reaches the city clerk more than two days before meetings. He added the idea of shifting the community outreach and business liaison functions of subcommittees to the Parent-Teacher Organization has been discussed, in part because that would not require the same formal posting procedures as a public board.


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