State: Egremont twice violated open meeting laws
EGREMONT -- The Board of Selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law twice last year when a citizen blogger was prevented from videotaping a meeting, the state Office of the Attorney General has ruled.
Egremont Select Board Chairman Bruce Turner twice ordered blogger Kevin Zurrin to stop recording a meeting because he did not provide notice prior to meetings on Sept. 9, and Sept. 13. In the second incident, Zurrin was escorted out of the meeting by an Egremont police officer.
The Attorney General letter, dated Feb. 6, orders "immediate and future compliance," and cautions that similar future violations may be considered evidence of an intentional violation of the law.
Turner said he disagreed with the ruling -- citing the importance of proper notification so the public can be alerted of a recording -- but he said he'd comply.
"This is behind us," Turner said. "The Attorney General made the ruling, it says don't do it again, we'll accept in and we'll move forward."
According to the letter, the chair may request, as a courtesy, that he is notified of a recording, but that is not required by law. The chair is not allowed to prevent the meeting's recording if it is not disruptive, the letter states.
Zurrin has been a vocal critic of the Select Board and he has broadcast his criticism using his blog, Eye on Egremont. In the lead-up to the Sept. 9 meeting, he wrote critically among several issues about the Select Board decision to restrict what could be discussed during citizen speak time, saying the policy resembles something from Communist Russia. To further his point, Zurrin posted a photo of Turner's face next to a photo of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and cited the familiarity between the faces.
Zurrin said he'll be running for the Select Board seat held by Charlie Flynn, and he said he believed Turner acted in retaliation to his criticism.
"The Selectmen are there to implement the will of the citizens," Zurrin said. "They are not doing that all the time. They are not acting in the best interest of all the people."
Turner denied the accusation, saying he doesn't read Zurrin's blog. Turner said he had Zurrin removed from a meeting on Sept. 13 because he was being disruptive.
"I've been doing this long enough that those things don't get under my skin," Turner said about the blog post.
Both Turner and Zurrin said tempers have cooled since the incidents.
However, Zurrin questioned whether the civility will continue after he resumes blogging.
The Attorney General letter states the chair has authority to set "reasonable requirements ... as to the number, placement and operation of equipments used so as not to interfere with the conduct of the meeting." The chair should also alert the audience upon being notified of being recorded.
Turner said it's important to be notified to alert others they are being recorded.
"I think the Select Board appreciates people attending our meeting and we have no problem with people recording," Turner said. "It's just people need to know."
Since July 2013, Egremont has had five Open Meeting Law complaints filed, according to Selectwoman Mary Brazie. The complaints have been issued by residents Zurrin, Bill Weigle, and former Egremont officer Jeremy Pilone.
The other complaints related to a July meeting at which selectmen were accused of not speaking loud enough and not providing enough seating for the public. Pilone submitted an Open Meeting Law complaint that Turner spoke to the media about his dismissal discussed in executive session.
Brazie said all three of those complaints were dismissed by the state Attorney General.
To reach John Sakata:
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