Where to Meet? – Executive vs. open session

There can be no doubt that the “talk of the town,” at least for those in attendance at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting and those watching the events unfold live on WCAT, was the call for an executive session by Council President Jeffrey Turco to discuss a matter with Town Manager James McKenna.

We’re not sure what the issue is (President Turco said he wanted to follow the process set forth in the town by laws) and he will put in writing to his colleagues today what issues will be discussed at the executive session scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Joe Harvey Hearing Room in Town Hall.

However, preliminarily we would hope that both Mr. Turco and his colleagues will take a careful look at the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law (which supercedes the town by law) to determine whether the subject matter to be discussed in the proposed executive session falls within one of the exceptions listed in the statute that make an executive session permissible.

Moreover, based on the disagreement between Mr. Turco, who wants to hold the executive session in private, and Mr. McKenna, who wants the discussion to be in open session, as is his right as stated under the town by law and the Open Meeting Law (“A governmental body shall hold an open meeting if the individual involved requests that the meeting be open”), it would appear as though the Council would be in violation of the law if they vote to go into executive session.

And for the record, we applaud Mr. McKenna for insisting that the meeting, whatever it is about, be held in open session rather than behind closed doors. It goes without saying that the public has a right to know what is going on in their local government and we would be disappointed if the Council were to seek to discuss matters in secret that rightly belong in an open forum.

However, beyond the legal aspects of the Open Meeting Law, it seem that one can deduce that the men holding two of the most powerful positions in the town are not seeing eye to eye on something. The whole chain of events at Monday’s meeting was rocky from the outset.

The executive session was originally scheduled for 7 p.m., but the Council decided to push it back to a time right after the regularly scheduled meeting. There was a 10-minute recess after the regularly scheduled meeting and then came the surprising decision to postpone the executive session to Monday.

One councillor called the whole situation “unprecedented” in the town (albeit the town manager’s position has been in existence for only a few years) and with the three days of anticipation of what the issues are to be discussed, Monday night’s meeting (whether closed or open) should make it one of the most watched governmental meetings in recent town history.

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