The Selectmen approved a letter responding to an Open Meeting Law complaint.
WILLIAMSTOWN — The Board of Selectmen deny allegations that they violated the Open Meeting Law in regards to a proposal to acquire the storm-damaged Spruces Mobile Home Park.
On Monday the board issued a formal response from town counsel to the Attorney General's office.
In its letter, the Selectmen argue that it did not conduct any deliberations outside of a posted meeting "regarding The Spruces or any other property." The full response is available below.
"In addition, the Board did not enter executive session on March 12 or March 26 to discuss the acquisition or value of The Spruces or any other real property, and the actual purpose of said executive sessions was properly listed in the meeting notice and stated in the motion as discussion of strategy for litigation identified as Morgan Management v. Town," the letter reads.
Morgan Management is the owner of the Spruces. As part of a negotiated settlement with Morgan Management, the town has filed an application for a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant for funds to purchase and close the park.
As part of the agreement, Rochester, N.Y.,-based Morgan Management would accept approximately $600,000 of the $6.2 million grant, and the town would receive the Spruces land and the remainder of the grant money, which would be used to disassemble the park and help relocate its current occupants.
The town plans to use the remainder of the grant (estimated at about $3 million) to help develop affordable housing on town-owned land off Stratton Road commonly referred to as the Lowry Property.
Kenneth Swiatek of Stratton Road filed an Open Meeting Law complaint on Dec. 11.
In it, Swiatek said that at two March 2012 meetings, "it's likely that purchase of real property was discussed during those two executive sessions for which only a discussion of litigation, but not a purchase of real property, was permitted under the Open Meeting Law."
Town Counsel Brian W. Riley of Boston law firm Kopelman and Paige drafted the town's response to Swiatek's complaint, which was accompanied by agendas, public session minutes and executive session minutes from the meetings in question.
"It was the Board's intention at the executive sessions held on March 12 and March 26, 2012 to discuss the status and potential resolution to the Morgan Management v. Town litigation, and that is in fact what occurred," Riley writes. "While the Town Manager indicated that the potential acquisition of The Spruces property could be a part of such resolution, there was no specific discussion of price negotiations, whether or not to acquire the property, or any other details of the issue. The Board's deliberations only concerned the (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program) application as a step towards resolution of the lawsuit."
On Monday, Selectman Ronald Turbin, while supporting the response as drafted, suggested that the announcement of the possible Spruces acquisition at a Nov. 13 Selectmen meeting gave ample time for a full vetting by residents.
"Even if there was a violation, and I do not believe there was, there was no harm done," Turbin said.
Select Board Chairman David Rempell told Turbin he believed his comment was "tangential," and the panel unanimously approved the draft of Riley's letter without further comment.
Swiatek, who attended Monday's meeting but did not speak to the board, said afterward he was surprised there was not more discussion about the response.
He declined to talk about its specifics until he had a chance to study it.
"It will go to the AG's office, and they will have to decide whether there was a potential violation," Swiatek said.
Jane Hudson was appointed to the Northern Berkshire Cultural Council.
According to an e-mail the Attorney General's office sent iBerkshires.com in December, the ball may be in Swiatek's court.
"If the person who brought the complaint is not satisfied with the action taken by the public body, that person may file a copy of the complaint, along with any other materials the person making the complaint believes are relevant, with the AGO," the e-mail reads. "The AGO may decline to investigate complaints that are filed with the Attorney General more than 90 days after the alleged Open Meeting Law violation, unless an extension was granted to the public body or the person making the complaint demonstrates good cause for the delay."
Swiatek addressed the "good cause" question in his original complaint, noting that the plan was announced to the town on Nov. 13, less than a month before his complaint was filed.
In other business on Monday, the Selectmen named Jane Hudson to the Northern Berkshire Cultural Council. Hudson and her husband, Jeff, operate Hudsons, an art, antique and collectibles shop on the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.
The Selectmen also heard a report from the Williamstown Police that on Dec. 19, a compliance check of 23 establishments serving alcoholic beverages in town yielded a 100 percent compliance rate.
"It's worth taking time to celebrate this and give a shout out to the managers for helping us create a culture of compliance," Selectwoman Jane Allen said.
Open Meeting Law Response