May 162014

The Groton Board of Selectmen responded during its Monday, May 12, meeting to the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law complaint filed by The Groton Line last week by asking the state Attorney General’s Office for guidance from about how to interpret the finer points of the law.

The complaint restates facts on which all five selectmen agree: that Chairman Peter Cunningham floated the idea of waiving building permit fees for Blood Farm’s post-fire rebuilding effort by calling the other selectmen once or twice in early April.

But the selectmen differ in their memories of what exactly was said — if the conversations were strictly one-to-one or if Cunningham told them what other selectmen’s reaction was. And that may be the deciding factor about whether there was a violation or not. According to interviews with the selectmen, Selectmen Anna Eliot and Stuart Schulman generally supported the idea; Selectman Josh Degen wouldn’t discuss it outside of an open meeting, and Selectman Jack Petropoulos said he thought the calls were an Open Meeting Law violation and would not talk on the phone about the idea.

“My feeling is that I did not violate the open meeting law,” Cunningham stated.

View the complaint here.

The story, originally made public by The Groton Herald after its editor, Russ Harris, received a tip from a West Groton business owner who’s identity has not been made public, generated an editorial by Harris and a reply by Cunningham in late April.

Cunningham believes the tip and subsequent media coverage is politically motivated. He is running for re-election to the board in the town’s May 20 election, and said during the Monday meeting that “Recognizing that we are in the midst of an election, it could well be that the individual thought they wanted to spread this around a little bit and create some interest in the election.”

Schulman told his colleagues that, “This is about the biggest to do over nothing that has occurred in weeks … If you were to have said: ‘The other selectmen said so-and-so and such-and-such,’ well then, yeah, maybe, it’s a violation, but to me it’s not a major one …

I move that we inform the Attorney General’s office that we do not understand the law well enough to render a judgment and that if he prefers, he can come in and educate us.”

The motion passed unanimously, with Petropoulos absent because of a business trip.

Town Manager Mark Haddad said he would have town counsel draft the formal response, which has not yet been received by The Groton Line.