Freedom of Access and Public Meetings

Regarding the question of Freedom of Access and public meetings, the following is a statement from City Attorney William Lee:

“There was a long article in the Sentinel recently where some people were raising conflict of interest questions and whether the Freedom of Access law had been violated because three councilors had been in attendance at a meeting called by school budget supporters. This situation is likely to arise again, so a statement of the law in this area might be helpful.

 

1. Conflict of interest questions:  Some people seem to feel that if a councilor attends a meeting where a particular viewpoint is being expressed, that that councilor has a conflict of interest in voting in that subject area. Having a viewpoint or listening to a particular viewpoint has nothing to do with conflict of interest principles. We should hope that councilors gather information from whatever sources are available before voting.

 

2. Having 3 councilors at an informational meeting violates Freedom Access (FOA) law: First of all, as Mike Roy correctly pointed out, it is possible to have the entire council at a gathering without it being a violation of FOA. They could be present at someone’s retirement party or any number of other events, which do not have as their purpose the transaction of public business. This was an informational meeting of an informal group (not a council meeting) and there was no FOA violation. Second, counsel for the Sentinel stated that a meeting of 3 members of a body could constitute a public meeting. That statement is misleading, and is not correct as it relates to the city council. The prohibition is against having an unpublicized  meeting of a body or agency where that body or agency consists of 3 or more members.  If three members of a three or five member board of selectmen got together to transact business without giving advance notice to the public, that would be a violation. The presence of a quorum makes it a public meeting. The presence of 3 members of a 7 member council does not constitute a quorum, and there is no public meeting. If the council wants to create 3 member sub-committees, it can do so.”