Pittsfield Councilors Spar Over Open Meeting Law Allegations

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Contention between members of the City Council continued in earnest Tuesday, amidst heated debate over the validity of a recent complaint that several of their rank violated open meeting law last month.

Councilor Melissa Mazzeo told the council that she felt that she had no choice but to report what she believed was a violation, given the circumstances that surrounded the controversial petition for a no-confidence vote in City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan. 

"I didn't want to do it this way. It is unfortunate," said Mazzeo, "but so was that meeting, and it didn't have to happen." 

Mazzeo contends that similarities between the opinions of several city councilors expressed in the media prior to the council's Oct. 9 dispute over the no-confidence petition indicates they had deliberated on it previously, while the accused councilors contend that no such deliberation took place. Furthermore, said detractors, the petition and related documents were publicly available information at the time they were touted in the media.

While some voted to approve a response from Mazzeo and Council President Sherman suggesting a general reminder on guidelines pertaining to open meeting law, those councilors accused of a breach made clear their strong opposition to the complaint itself.

"I did not violate the open meeting law, period. I did not even come close," said Councilor Christine Yon. "I'm disappointed that my colleague would file this unwarranted complaint against five of her colleagues."

"Looking at Councilor Mazzeo's complaint, there is absolutely no evidence that anyone broke the law, it is all her feelings," said Councilor Barry Clairmont. "You don't accuse your colleagues of breaking the law without evidence, you don't do it based on feelings. That's just insane."

"Meeting on the middle on a complaint that doesn't have merit I don't think is valid," said Councilor John Krol. "I'm not going to sit up here and take an accusation that I know to be untrue, based on my understanding of open meeting law, and my understanding of the facts."

Krol made a motion to amend the communication from Councilors Sherman and Mazzeo to add a bullet point indicating an opinion that no violation of open meeting law had taken place. This motion failed 7-4, with Krol and Clairmont, along with Councilors Jonathan Lothrop and Paul Capitanio in support of the defeated amendment.

"I don't think that's particularly our call," said Councilor Christopher Connell, expressing the opinion that it was beyond the purview of the council to submit a document to the attorney general's office indicating whether open meeting law was violated. 

"There's a good chance, and I really think strongly, that some of you did break open meeting law," said Mazzeo. "If you don't want to agree to this, then we'll roll the dice and go to the attorney general."

"The idea that we compromise or placate on an allegation that I believe to be wrong, I do have a problem with that," responded Krol.

"I'm not sure if open meeting law was broken or not," said Councilor Churchill Cotton, who along with Krol voted against accepting the communication in response to Mazzeo's complaint, suggesting that the matter should go to the attorney general for adjudication.

The motion to accept the communication of open meeting guidelines from Sherman and Mazzeo was approved by a 9-2 vote.

Tags: city council,   open meeting,   

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