|By Chris Maza
Selectmen Alex Grant, left, and Mark Gold, right, were among those accused of an open meeting violation by fellow Selectman Paul Santaniello.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Selectman Paul Santaniello recently accused fellow Select Board members Marie Angelides, the chair of the board, Mark Gold and Alex Grant of committing an Open Meeting Law violation.
In a complaint form stamped as received by the Town Manager’s Office on Aug. 30, Santaniello alleged that a “lengthy conversation” between the three, which represented a quorum of the board, and Town Manager Stephen Crane took place on Aug. 5 after the posted Select Board meeting.
“l am asking that three members provide minutes to their discussion to the rest of the Select Board and to have an agenda item that allows all Select Board members to weigh in on the issues discussed,” he said, explaining that at the end of the meeting, Angelides asked if there were any other questions that needed to be raised and after one regarding project reports was discussed, no other Select Board member raised any issues, but after the meeting the four aforementioned individuals stayed behind.
“At any point during the ensuing post meeting discussion, one of the remaining Select Board members could have left the discussion to ensure there was not a quorum. The fact that the discussion pertained to agenda items, and carried on for quite a while, leads me to believe it was intentional and a way to avoid the discussion in public,” Santaniello said. “The chair provided more than one opportunity for a Select Board member to bring an item up for discussion during our legally posted meeting.”
A response from the board was required within 14 business days.
Angelides drafted a response, which she circulated to members of the board at its Sept. 9 meeting. No action was taken at that meeting, but Angelides again addressed the issue of the response at the Sept. 16 meeting of the board, at which Mark Gold agreed to support the response.
Grant questioned the complaint’s validity on Sept. 9, stating that in the report there “was no articulation of a violation.”
“Mr. Santaniello indicated that a conversation had taken place,” he said on Sept. 9. “At no point does he indicate that there was deliberation that took place. Factually, all that was stated was there was a conversation.”
He reiterated his concerns on Sept. 16 and refused to take part in a vote.
In a letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sclarsic that accompanied the formal response, Town Counsel David Martel said, “A quorum of the Select Board members did not deliberate on any public business within its jurisdiction.”
According to the response, at approximately 10 p.m. following the Aug. 5 meeting, comments were made by Gold and Grant to Crane regarding the manner in which he handled an issue discussed in executive session, which resulted in a heated discussion.
“The town manager spoke to Mark Gold about his executive session comments and how he ‘did not appreciate being told he was wrong before he even explained what he was doing.’ Mark Gold responded with a raised voice, defending his comments at the executive session,” the response reads.
It continues by stating that Grant, who was walking past the two, joined the conversation and the “intrapersonal communications” were part of a “spontaneous overflow from the meeting that just ended and were not planned.”
It further states that upon hearing the raised voices, Angelides told them they would continue the conversation at the next meeting and future meetings during the open session.
Comments by Grant and Gold during the exchange were “repetitive from the meeting” and the interactions were reported during open meetings that followed, the response asserted.
“Everything that was said in the parking lot was repeated at subsequent meetings in open session, including statements about the town manager’s handling of issues,” it reads. “There was no violation of the open meeting law and not intentional violation of the open meeting law.”
The response further stated, “The concerns of Select Board member Paul Santaniello had regarding violations of open meeting law and information regarding the details of the discussion after the meeting were responded to in a timely manner in August before his filing of the complaint of an intentional violation of the open meeting law. Since the discussion referred to in the complaint was not a ‘meeting’ there is no need for any minutes.”
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