Chairman Robert Ericson wants to keep warnings he made about potential litigation in the records but other committee members feel that it opens the district up to legal troubles.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chairman of the Mount Greylock Regional High School Committee is threatening to resign after comments he made were stricken from the public record.
Chairman Robert Ericson said Tuesday that removing comments he made warning of legal trouble with a proposed cell phone tower from the unapproved meeting minutes of Jan. 17 was "a slap in the face" and threatened to resign if they were not re-written.
However, committee members felt they could not oblige because of the possibility of legal turmoil since the cell tower company is now threatening a lawsuit alleging that the school did not provide enough support.
The committee eventually postponed approval of those minutes for a second time, agreeing to take them up in April.
The January minutes reflected a conversation board members had regarding Florida Tower Partners' proposed wind tower. The committee decided not to take action in allowing the company to look at a third location. Ericson said then that taking no action could result in a lawsuit. His statement was originally documented but, in February, Committee member David Langston motioned to strike the discussion from the record.
"It gets us into murky legal water and I'd rather avoid all of it," Langston said in February and was supported by committee member Heather Williams.
However, the board agreed to postpone approval of those minutes until March. In the meantime, the committee's new secretary Carolyn "Carrie" Greene redrafted the minutes — which were originally taken by Abigail Reifsnyder before she resigned — and updated the draft upon Williams and Langston's suggestion. On Tuesday, Ericson pushed to add that discussion back into the record.
"I take umbrage with the changing of what I said in a public meeting, by changing the records to falsify it," Ericson said. "I feel the School Committee did not do their due diligence on it. If you want to abridge my rights to free speech and remove from the minutes what I said, feel free to do so but I will resign from the committee."
Ericson said the committee has given each other the "courtesy" of clarifying comments in the record in the past and asking to keep his comments on record is not "unreasonable."
Langston countered by saying the legal ramifications justify removing the language. The minutes are not intended to be a strict transcription of the minutes but rather to document the committee's transactions, he said, adding that the language puts the school in jeopardy and should be scaled back.
"I agree you said them and I agree that under normal circumstances a courtesy should be extended, but in this case [with legal ramifications], I think it puts us in a position we don't want to be in," Langston said.
Committee member Jack Hickey questioned Ericson about what was being accomplished by keeping the comments in the record. Ericson responded with harsh words about the committee's actions.
"I made statements that I would like to remain on the public record," Ericson said. "We all have part in proposing the cell tower at this location. We refused to work with the cell tower company and as a result, we have then put ourselves in jeopardy and we've pissed off $250,000 in income over the next 10 years."
The cell tower issue has been dogging the committee since it made an agreement with Florida Tower Partners more than two years ago. The tower's proposed location has moved around the school, then off the property, then back on, running into rejections from neighbors and the Zoning Board of Appeals along the way.
The ZBA denial means the company has to wait two years to apply for another permit. Now it's threatening to sue the school district, claiming to have spent more than $100,000 in planning and permitting.
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Mr. Ericson is 100% correct when he says the Committee wasted a good opportunity and didn't do enough to make that situation a positive outcome for it's school district. If nothing else, he got his point across. It sounds like the School Committee is already in a legal mess, minutes or not.
Oh what a tale we weave. I was told many years ago to watch what you ask for. Well maybe your antics on the cell tower project might have been something you should not have asked for. Your going so low as to change the minutes, well what are you thinking about, and to think your committee sets policy for our high school education. Shame on you and to think you can lie your way out of this. tisk tisk, and what are you teaching out there, certainly not lead by example.
Time to shine a public access camera on the MGRHS School Committee meetings. We can't have a school committee napping in the middle of the road like a 'possum, whenever there's a tough decision to be made.
Are not all the public meetings telecast on Willinet? Do the committee members also feel they should go edit the tape? ... And, more to the point, now that THIS proposal has been discussed in a public meeting AND reported in the press (and possibly recorded again by community television), who do they think they're fooling by striking the language from the minutes?
Besides being deceptive and running afoul of opening meeting laws and the First Amendment, they're just plan dopey.
Revising the official record to correct a mistake or to clarify an issue is a common practice all through various organizations. It is not usually devious or dishonest. Congress, boards of directors, Courts, etc... all do it when appropriate.
Usually, except in courts, it is the person who made the remarks who wants them stricken. The difference here is that their is a fight about it and that alone should keep the comments on the record.
Langston and Williams should immediately resign. If Green re-typed the minutes, she should resign too. Is this why Reifsnyder resigned? Minutes are not supposed to be manipulated. They are supposed to reflect reality; not some people's ideal reality. The select-board needs to take immediate action on this. There is important work to be done by this committee and it needs to be performed by ethical individuals who keep precise records.
@Roberts Rules...Yes, but this isn't correcting a mistake or clarifying an issue. This is a blatant cover up, as though they have something to be guilty of. I agree with Resignations. It's time to clean house and make repairs.
The moment the words were uttered they became subject to the public's Right To Know. The genie was out, the barn door left open, and those that oppose this may have conspired to omit from the record pertinent information. The conspiratorial nature and atmosphere is even seen in public Open Meeting, opening this wound needlessly... it will just bleed out if the remarks of the Honorable Chair are put into silence. If there are legal considerations, they should be discussed in Executive Session only, with extremely accurate notes. In the end, the public has the right to know from not only some moral authority (that I like to think guides all parties involved), but also Open Meeting. There are other areas of law that speak to this. If you are owed an up commence, you’ll get one, and so I suggest do the right thing. Since the controversy is known to everyone, it would seem prudent to put what was said (now gossiped about) clearly on the record. There is no other way to do this lawfully. I fought this issue one time as a selectman. I walked away from it bruised for I could not understand others’ thinking that saying it and not recording it was ‘safer’ even in Executive Session! Groups of people often make this mistake. Most of them correct it as soon as it is recognized for what it is: Fear. ... this is what we need to rid ourselves of.
According to a spokes person from Willinet the video recording of the 3/20/12 MGRHS School Committee meeting being discussed was corrupted and is not available to view. That being said I agree that the meeting minutes should be preserved exactly as they were discussed in the public meeting.