Lawrence News and Open Meeting Law Updates

By: Kathy Runge – Jan. 2016

rungeHappy New Year from recall central!

Most of us in Lawrence are suffering from recall fatigue, with objections to signatures on the first recall petition due to be heard this month, while the second recall has until the 23rd to collect the required number of signatures.

At the December 15 Council meeting there was a nice resolution honoring Councilor Twomey, who’s retiring, for his years of service. Of course it wasn’t on the agenda (suspend the rules!), so the average citizen had no idea that it would happen. The meeting is posted on YouTube, the resolution is read around the 40-minute mark. If you listen carefully after Council President Maldonado sits back down, you can hear him chuckling about reading the resolution cold, as if it were the first time he had seen it.

The subject of the many uncontrolled intersections in the city came up while the Council was discussing the placement of a stop sign at the intersection of West and Haverhill Street. District D Councilor Jeovanny Rodriguez’s background in engineering has made him knowledgeable about state regulations regarding roads, and we should take advantage of his specialty. If any resident out there has concerns about the safety of an uncontrolled or partially controlled intersection in the city, now would be the time to bring these up to your councilor.

The Council also expressed an interest in examining the parking situation for residents that live near businesses or schools that have all of their parking taken up at various times. If you are in this situation, now would also be a good time to bring this up to your councilor.

The Council voted unanimously to accept a two year $1.2 million grant to hire 7 new firefighters. This should cut down on overtime expenses. The firefighters have already been chosen from the civil service list and are scheduled to attend the firefighting academy in the next few months.

Council President Maldonado announced that although some mayors and other politicians from the Dominican Republic were supposed to attend the swearing in ceremony for the councilors on January 4, one of the mayors had been murdered so the plans were uncertain.

At the many Board of Registrars meetings involving the recall, City Clerk Maloney is quick to point out various state regulations that they must follow when verifying signatures. Massachusetts Regulation 950 CMR 55.03 states that the Registrars are not to check for forged signatures and Mr. Maloney happily points that out.

However, other regulations don’t seem important enough to follow.

The regulations governing the Open Meeting Law (OML), 940 CMR 29, state that notices for meetings of a public body must be posted at a location accessible 24 hours a day in or on the building where the City Clerk’s office is located or, if an alternate location is used that location must be approved and on file with the Attorney General. The City Clerk states that the official posting location is a particular location on the city website and this is not on file with the Attorney General.

It also states that a notice giving the alternate posting location must be posted outside the main and handicapped entrances to the building where the City Clerk’s office is located. There is no such notice posted outside the entrances to City Hall.

The above instances may not seem important, but 940 CMR 29.03 states that the alternate location must be consistently used. I have documented multiple instances during the past year where the Council agendas weren’t posted at this location in a manner satisfying the time requirements.

This is what prompted me to complain. After requesting that City Clerk Maloney correct this issue and getting no action, on September 16 of last year I filed an OML violation complaint against him. City residents shouldn’t have to go on an Easter egg hunt for agendas.

Naturally the complaint didn’t get forwarded to the Attorney General’s office as required by law, so I notified them of the complaint before Thanksgiving. I received a certified letter from the Division of Open Government dated December 18 stating that the OML applies to government bodies so a complaint can’t be filed against the City Clerk.
I don’t know what’s so hard about complying with these regulations. But this is Lawrence and evidently we can pick and choose the laws we follow.