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SHELD executive session activity is troubling

March 13, 2024 |

I am troubled that my municipal electric utility conducts its fiberoptic business matters in secrecy. The elected South Hadley Electric Light Department commission has met in executive session and has refused to release minutes or remove redactions from documents related to its fiberoptic business that apparently grossed some $1.7 million in calendar 2022 alone.

I began to probe the commission in early 2023 after a former commissioner complained that the board had adopted a policy that strictly limited release of information about its fiberoptic activities.

The commission has based its policy on a law that governs the state’s 41 municipal light plants (MLP). It allows MLPs to keep records confidential “when necessary for protecting trade secrets, confidential, competitively sensitive or other proprietary information.”

The people of South Hadley deserve to know what their town-owned utility is doing. Laws must be enforced or changed to make that happen.

I first demanded minutes of a 2022 executive session at which commissioners debated a one-year contract for its general manager that authorized an 8.5% salary increase and $25,000 one-time bonus. The commission refused, citing state law.

I then filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the state Attorney General office. It ordered the commission to release minutes of the session in which the board agreed to use fiberoptic revenues to pay the manager’s bonus because it could not be legally paid through electric revenues.

In November, I sought through a public records request, the income of each of the accounts that comprise the $1.8 million “Other” line item in the Operating Revenues section of annual SHELD financial statements.

The commission subsequently released a heavily blacked-out copy of the “Other” account that in 2022 shows $1.85 million in revenues. Of that, a few minor accounts represent $116,000. The rest, $1.7 million, was blacked out, presumably because it represents fiberoptic revenues.

The commission has not to this date released minutes as required by law of five 2022 executive sessions that were conducted in secret to compete with others, such as Westfield Gas and Electric, which holds 19 such contracts with Western Massachusetts towns.

Walter Hamilton
South Hadley

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