Stockbridge counsel sees merit to one of two open meeting complaints

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STOCKBRIDGE — The town's legal counsel has acknowledged that Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo correctly identified one Open Meeting Law violation by his two colleagues, Chairman Terry Flynn and member Roxanne McCaffrey.

But, in a statement filed with the state Attorney General's Office and read in its entirety by Flynn at Thursday night's Select Board meeting, Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares argued that other allegations and violations listed in Cardillo's complaint filed June 24 with state Attorney General Maura Healey's office were not valid.

Cardillo had contended, based on a June 6 voicemail message to him from Flynn, that Flynn and McCaffrey had privately agreed to a proposed $3.50 per hour raise for Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale after prolonged contract negotiations had failed.

In his response, prepared at the request of the two board members during a closed-door session on July 2, Miyares chronicled a 15-month history of contract talks between Tisdale and the Select Board during a series of executive sessions starting on March 28, 2018, centered on the superintendent's requested $3.50 an hour increase.

Those talks led to Tisdale's rejection of a proposed contract of $70,073 per year, representing a $2 hourly increase, because it lacked overtime payment for snow plowing, according to Flynn. The rejection was followed by private, individual conversations this past spring involving Tisdale, Flynn and McCaffrey, followed by the voicemail from Flynn to Cardillo after Tisdale separately described to Flynn and McCaffrey each other's opinion.

In his memorandum, Miyares stated that the two Select Board members "agree that the voicemail constituted a deliberation" by a quorum and thus violated the Open Meeting Law. However, he added, the Board disputes a second allegation by Cardillo that a June 12, 2019, executive session on Tisdale's contract went beyond its agenda by discussing a possible raise and that a vote was "forced through."

"The Select Board's vote was completely within the scope of the purpose of the executive session" to renegotiate a contract with a department head, Miyares wrote, and the board has agreed to schedule a vote to release the minutes of the various closed-door meetings on Tisdale's contract.

Miyares stated that Flynn denied Cardillo's allegation that Flynn said he doesn't "believe in municipal law; if laws weren't meant to be broken, we wouldn't need the police." He also noted the alleged statement had no relevance to compliance with the Open Meeting Law.

Miyares cited a memo from the Attorney General's Office stating that "it does not conduct broad audits of public bodies based on generalized allegations."

However, addressing Cardillo, Miyares wrote that "the Select Board takes your allegations seriously. To the extent that that you have identified an Open Meeting Law violation, the Board is committed to rectifying that violation so the Town's business can be transacted with the requisite level of transparency." Flynn and McCaffrey also pledged that the board is committed "to open decision-making in compliance with the Open Meeting Law and to refrain from further violations in the future."

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The town counsel's report also noted that on June 21, a closed-door board session yielded an agreement with the highway superintendent for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, now in effect. Contract details have not been disclosed pending release of the minutes.

At Thursday's meeting attended by about 25 residents, Flynn stated: "I apologize to the town for violating the Open Meeting Law when I left Chuckie a voicemail about the highway superintendent's pay." He explained that he focused on what he described as an annual town meeting vote to give the superintendent a raise and "making sure that Chuckie was apprised about what was being contemplated, so he had a chance to weigh in on the matter."

"I should have been more mindful of precisely abiding by the Open Meeting Law," Flynn said. "I am sorry that I put Chuckie in an uncomfortable position, and that I helped create more turmoil for the town. I promise to be more aware of my actions in the future, so we can avoid having situations like this arise."

Cardillo responded that "I have no comment at this point."

While some residents welcomed the apology as a healing gesture aimed at easing tension in town, others offered scathing rebukes to the Select Board members as fallout continued over Town Administrator Danielle Fillio's recent resignation.

"You guys are acting like a bunch of little children up here," said Nick Fredsall. "It's ridiculous. Your focus should be the well-being of this town [but] it's not; your focus is arguing with each other. You've been bickering for months and months, you need to get over it and begin working for the town."

Kate Fletcher, a Planning Board member, pointed to the Select Board's successful hire of Town Accountant Ray Ellsworth and agreed with "moving forward, putting some of what seem like these small gripes and tensions behind us and working together to make the right move."

Flynn offered a candid assessment of town dysfunction, urging a step back from "various personality clashes and conflicts, and the sense we have that certain people have certain agendas."

"We had a series of situations, and each created disrespect and distrust, and those two are symbiotic: It's hard to say which causes which; they cause each other," he said. "The more distrust you have, the more disrespect you're likely to get, and the more it's going to be build up distrust. That's something we've all been caught up in, and I don't have any magic bullet for how to fix that. I hope something will happen to start the ball rolling in another direction."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto, or at 413-637-2551.


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