Glenn Koocher of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees said boards are struggling with so-called 'outlier' behaviors at governmental meetings.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There's been an often-heated debate raging at City Council meetings lately over whether the public has the right to speak.
The expert's opinion: They don't.
"You do not have to have a public comment period but if you do, you have to treat everybody fairly," according to Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. "You don't want to turn the meeting over to the audience unless you're having a legitimate interactive form of dicussion about public policy."
Several members of the public have loudly objected to the City Council's newest rules of order that eliminated any public comments during council debate, claiming their 1st Amendment Rights are being violated. Koocher, however, reiterated that the law not only does not provide for public comment, it leaves such comment up to the discretion of the board chairman or president.
Koocher addressed some 70 to 75 local officials from various governmental boards on Monday night at Drury High School. He had been invited to speak by Ellen Sutherland, assistant to the school superintendent; North Berkshire officials and the public were encouraged to attend.
Koocher has frequently done open meeting presentations on behalf of the attorney general's office; on Monday night he was not, which allowed him, he said, a little more levity and editorial remarks. The 90-minute presentation and question period were taped for broadcast on NBCTV.
The attorney general's office has overseen the Open Meeting law implementation since 2010. Prior to that, it had been the responsibility of the district attorneys, which at times led to 14 different interpretations, said Koocher.
Open Meeting Law
The Law Chapter 30A sections 18-25
Regulations: 940 CMR 29.00
General Principles • Meetings must be open to the public unless the public body enters into a proper executive session
• Meetings must be posted
• Public bodies may enter into executive session for certain purposes
• Public records must be retained
• Alternative complain process where three citizens may file a complaint in Superior Court
• Enforcement by the attorney general's office for state public bodies.
Filing a Complaint • Chapter 30A, section 23
• Must be filed within 30 days of alleged violation to the public body, which has 14 days to respond
• If not resolved, may be filed with AG's office
AG may compel board to comply or attend training, impose fine or other appropriate measure
He addressed a wide range of issues, from executive sessions to posting agendas to the role of the chairman. The basic tenet of Open Meeting law was the public's right to know what its government is doing.
"The public has the right to know what's going on in public meetings," said Koocher, describing the chairman's role in serving the board and informing the public as being "essentially the broadcast announcer for the meeting."
Chairmen also may find they have to stop speakers from revealing confidential matters and to keep order. "It is the role of the chair to see that the meeting is run efficiently, appropriately and fairly," he said. He or she does have to tell the audience whether they are being recorded.
The rules are pretty clear on boards acting outside the public eye, "serial communications" in which board members may "deliberate" only one or two at time and the use of executive session. But findings on new forms of expression, such as blogs kept by officials, and old forms, such as gestures, are still cloudy.
Several area officials quizzed Koocher on a board's ability to control so-called "outliers" who regularly attend meetings to provide their lengthy opinions — wanted or not.
It's an issue boards are struggling with, he said, not just with the public but with board members who feel they need to speak on everything all the time. He recommended putting limits on speaking times and ensuring the audience knew the rules, including that the board would not comment, and that rules be enforced equally.
Koocher speaks with School Committee member John Hockridge, left, and Councilor Keith Bona after the session.
Signs may be disruptive depending on what's on them or how they are being presented, and while it's up to the chairman to determine that, he cautioned that "the bill of rights of the state constitution is more powerful than even the federal Constitution."
"I do not think you can permanently ban an American citizen from a public meeting, unless they present a legitimate danger to the safety of the people involved," he responded to a question by Councilor Keith Bona, adding that that was an issue for a judge.
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Thank you. This proves once and for all....Bob and Mark are correct. Follow along and try to keep up. This is a teachable moment.
True, the public does not have a right to speak, BUT if speaking is allowoed, which in North Adams it is at the beginning and end of the meetings, ALL must be treated equally, which means all must be recognized in this case for 2 minutes
So, Bllom has no choice he can recognize Bob or brerak the law
To On the Fence:
Thanks, nothing more then I have been saying,you have to treat everyone equally and fairly, it is the role of the chair to see that the meeting is run effeciertly,and fairly and that must be enforced equally.
The chair can not recognize one person at open fourm or agenda and not another,that would be discrimination.
Forgive me, but Mr. Trottier and his supporters could not be more incorrect. Nowhere in this article does it say that the chair must recognize anyone who ask to speak. Given Cardimino reprehensible behavior in past meetings, coupled with his threats and harassment of Mr. Bloom, Mr. Bloom is well within his rights to not recognize Cardimino.
State law controls whatever Rules the City Council has adopted. There is no law, regulation, or case requiring that the Chair recognize anyone who asks to speak at a city council meeting. Once so recognized, the Chair must treat the person fairly, but fairness runs both ways.
More proof Robert does not know what he is talking about. On topix Clark Billings has posted his views, he agrees with Mark, myself and the majority of north adams residents. If there is an open forum, and no disruptions occur at that meeting, Bob must be recognized.
Why would you need to contact two lawyers? Did you not trust the first one? Who are these esteemed members of the local bar?
All the speaker spoke of is fairness. The speaker is not familiar with the Rules of the Council. And, Clark Billings is no longer on the Council,a nd he considers Cardimino an idiot, as do 99.9% of the citizens of North Adams.
State law does not require the Chair to recognize a citizem, and neither do the Rules. Cardimino does not have a legal leg to stand on, and you know it. Now, Bloom may recognize him out of weakness, but as soon Cardimino starts with insults and invective, Bloom will shut him down, as he should.
A City Council meeting is not a place for personal vendettas and attacks. Cardimino is an insult to the City. NBCTC should be ashamed of itself, as should you and Trottier for making a mockery of City Council meetings.
To; On The Fence:
Wow, even Clark Billings agreed with me, thats big, I tryed your site but for some reason couldn't get it, is it a twitter, or facebook?
If you would email me, Tomuchbull61@yahoo.com would love to talk, you sound like a man with a lot of common sense.
Thanks again, still waiting on the Editor to post my comment to Robert, who ever he is ?
5-16-2012 at 1:30 P.M.
Mark, it's not my website, it is topix. www.topix.com, choose north adams. But here are Clarks words
"My take-----public has no right to speak at a Council meeting----but if you have Hearing of Visitors and Open Forum- you are inviting the public to speak----and I think the Chair must recognize anyone who wants to speak (even Cardimino)-----now if you dump those two "open" segments and return to the days before some idiot Council president introduced Open Forum---then members of the gallery can only speak if recognized by the chair at his/her discretion---could the chair allow certain people to speak and not others--probably yes ......if the Chair invites and asks if anyone would like to address the Council he's opened it up "
You are simply incorrect. Please take some time and read the open meeting law. There is no legal authority whatsoever for your posittion, and the speaker you're so desperately relying on did not at all say that all people who wish to speak at a public meeting must be recognized.
The Council is affording people the opportunity to speak, and Cardimino has flagrantly abused that opportunity.
What if, as is now being discussed, the Council simply eliminates the Open Forum and Hearing of Visitors?
Robert, it is you who are simply wrong. This has been said earlier I believe in the article. If there is no open forum, then Bloom would not recognize anyone. If there is a forum, all must be treated fairly and equally. Once he opens it up, Bob must be recognized.
The council can not eliminate the Open Forum oe Hearing of the Visitors for another Year, under the rules they already voted again to keep them.
Why should I be ashamed of my sely, for pointing out that the gang of Seven are arrogant at best, I don't think so.
Under Roberts Rules, the chair person must step down to preach, you really need to do some reading before you preach too.
You have a lot of time on your plate,so let me give you something to crow about and also look up.
Merit is a subject to various meanings, but in the legal context, merit refers to a claim which has a valid basis, setting forth sufficunt facts from which a court could find a valid claim of deprivation of a legal right, Meritorious claims usually cite legal authorities, such as statutory laws or case laws.
Go read FXP LLC v. Town of Foxborough, civil action No. 12-10553-JLT U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts March 27, 2012 and then come back and tell me you can't do what I have been saying, its in four sets of papers 1. Verified Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Plaintiffs' Motion Foe A Temporary Restraining Order, Plaintiff'S Memorandum In Support Of Motion For A Temporary Restraining Order,and the Order.
To On The Fence:
Robert is as good as the Old Snake Oil salesman, I wonder if he was ever on the council before or just a want-to-Be councilor.
I read some of the Topix, what name do you go under, If you don't want to say then just email me and I'll know who you are. thanks.
Thank you for your cite. I will take a look at that case.
But, more pertinent to this issue is a determination by the AG on citizens speaking at a public meeting. Please go to this website, http://www.oml.ago.state.ma.us, and read OML # 2012-23 from the Town of Foxboro.
You'll find that Cardimino's battle was over before it started.
I reviewed the FXP case, which FXP dismissed at the end of April. What you glaringly fail to mention is that FXP is the owner of land that could be adversely affect by the construction of a casino in Foxborough. The issue in that case is not a free speech issue, but a due process issue. Whenever an issue before a municipality concerns an interest in a specific person's land, that person always has right to speak. You will note that Judge Tauro did not issue an opinion in the case, but granted a restraining order. FXP then dissmissed its case.
Bob Cardimino holding a defamatory sign, threatening the council president, and ranting and raving in meetings has nothing to do with due process. The public simply enjoys no constitutional right to speak at an Open Meeting. The Open Meeting Law is quite clear on this point. Your bootstrapping inapposit cases does not, and will not change the law on this issue.
And, you really should leave Chris Tremblay alone.
The Ag's law under the open meeting law, has been on the books for many many years, nothing new, however N.A. has added an exception to the issue by having a designated public forum, called Hearing of visitors, and open forum, so one now must follow the law, and can't discriminate by allowing one person to speak and not another. If you want the case law I'll be more then glad to give it to you. that would be a "Tort".
The city council can not change the forum for a year now as they have already had the issue back on the table again, and yes FXP was a order a TRO to allow them to speak at the meeting, and for the record I did speak to judge Tauro a few weeks ago, on this matter and on public forums, so I guess we can agree to disagree on these issues.
Now what does chris Trembley, have to do with me or this case ?Don't know the man, and as you can see the only one on this cite has been you and "On The Fence'so whats up with you saying you should leave him alone?
The is no legal requirement that the chair recognize Cardimino, regardless of whether the council has a Hearing of Visitor or an Open Forum. I suggest you read OPL 2012-23.
And, Chris Tremblay has confirmed that you called NBCTC to ask for the phone number of the first caller to Cardimino's new show. He gave NBCTC permission to release the phone number to you. He has called you, but you refuse to answer.
Further, you are posting as "Fact" on Topix, and have uttered disgusting, anti-semitic, misogynist, and hateful remarks toward a bevy of Topix users. You should be ashamed of yourself sir.
I just put a statement on "Topix" first time in over a year or two, under Inside Repoter" and signed my name, That blog, is all bull and trash talk, but I never talked or called Chris T. and am not "Fact" or anyother name other then what I have stated above.