During the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on July 6, Chairman Jack Petropoulos offered an unreserved apology to the public and fellow Board members for inadvertently releasing executive session minutes on June 21. The minutes revealed details of settlement discussions with four firefighters who are suing the town in federal court.
Explaining events leading to the inadvertent release, Petropoulos said, “Two weeks ago, I got a request for a copy of the Selectmen’s agenda because it had not been pushed out to the media.” Petropoulos said he was traveling and on vacation when he received the request and, “I forwarded a copy of the agenda to a member of the press.”
He continued, “I mistakenly forwarded a copy that included all the backup material attached to the selectmen’s version of the agenda.” This version contained the sensitive executive session details of the lawsuit including monetary settlement offers. He added, “Those notes got published and were made public.”
Art Campbell, editor and publisher of The Groton Line, was the member of the press who asked Petropoulos for the agenda because it had not been sent from the office of the Town Manager and Selectmen for the upcoming meeting. For years, the agenda was routinely sent to area media outlets and interested residents before the meeting. The outlets receiving the emailed agenda included The Groton Line, The Groton Herald, The Groton Channel, and the Lowell Sun and its weekly Groton Landmark. Campbell said he ordinarily posts the agenda to his popular 1700-member Talk About Groton email list as a public service.
Campbell said that when he received the emailed agenda from Petropoulos, he — like Petropoulos — did not realize it included additional pages of material and thought he was posting the agenda only. He said, “I popped the PDF open in the Google preview window, confirmed that the agenda was the first page, and forwarded it to the list. I didn’t scan down further, because I was only interested in the agenda at that point.”
It turns out that the reason no one in the media received the agenda from the Town Manager’s office was that Town Manager Mark Haddad had changed the policy of the town and simply decided to stop emailing it to media outlets without any prior notification.
Inquiring why he had not received the agenda, Campbell was told by the Town Manager’s office that the agenda would no longer be emailed, but that it could be found on the town’s website. Campbell remarked that although the agenda can be found on the website, it is not easily accessible and will be harder for some people to access, especially those who prefer email to web pages or who do not use the Internet at all.
According to an email sent by Dawn Dunbar, the Executive Assistant to the Town Manager on June 22, “Because of changes over the past couple of years in the Open Meeting Law and the ways in which we are able to post agendas for the public to view, I will no longer be sending out a copy of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting agendas via email. If you wish to view the agenda, please visit www.townofgroton.org and click on “Public Meeting Calendar” under “Quick Links” on the left hand side of the homepage to pull up the meeting calendar. From here, click on the desired meeting to pull up the agenda. Board of Selectmen agendas can be viewed online by 4pm on Thursdays.”
Officials at the Massachusetts office of the Attorney General, which oversees the Open Meeting Law, confirmed that there have been no changes to the OML since 2011.
Petropoulos concluded his apology saying, “That was a tremendous mistake on my part; it was a mistake in process; a mistake in thinking and issues of confidentiality; and a mistake in many ways and it quite possibly has implications; it has implications if only for the trust the other board members have in me and the way I operate. And for that I have to apologize, apologize to the members of the board. And I am truly, truly sorry to have done this.”
This story also appeared in this week’s edition of The Groton Herald and is used here with permission. — Ed.