City Solicitor Tells Framingham Committee To Re-Vote Grants To Adhere To Open Meeting Laws

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FRAMINGHAM – Earlier this month, the Framingham Community Development Committee voted against a grant for the Framingham Dog Park.

That vote prompted District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon to investigate what the 7-member Committee, appointed by the Mayor, did approve for CDBG or Community Development Block Grants, and why the agenda item for the vote was not publicly posted.

Cannon questioned the agenda posting and the votes, with the City of Framingham’s Director of Planning & Community Development Kevin Shea.

Under the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law, the public must be able to see what a Committee plans to vote on 48 hours in advance of any meeting. Agenda items also need to be detailed.

Today, May 25, City Solicitor Chris Petrini agreed with Councilor Cannon and instructed Shea to have the Framingham Community Development Committee re-vote on the grants, and re-post the new meeting following the state’s Open Meeting Law.

“I agree with the point raised by Councilor Cannon,” said Petrini in an email to Shea, Cannon, and City of Framingham Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III.

“The Community Development Committee is a public body that is subject to the Open Meeting Law (“OML”).  Meeting notices under the OML must include a listing of topics to be discussed at the meeting that contain enough specificity to give the public an understanding of each topic that will be discussed. It is not sufficient to list broad topic categories,” wrote Petrini, in that email which was then shared with all 11 City Councilors.

Once an email is shared with all members of the legislative branch, it becomes a public document. SOURCE then received multiple copies of the emails.

“When there are multiple similar items that will be dealt with at a meeting, such as in this case decisions on projects to fund with CDBG funds, the Attorney General in OML determinations has indicated that the notice must include details about each item, including the identity of the licensee or applicant or appointee, or the address that is the subject of an application to be considered by the public body,” said Petrini to Shea. “This level of detail is intended to provide members of the public with sufficient information to understand what business is being transacted by the public body and the opportunity to attend and observe deliberations in which they are interested.”

“For the above reasons, we recommend that the Committee repost the agenda to consider CBDG funding with the level of detail required and consider and revote the items at a public meeting to cure any OML issue with the prior agenda,” wrote Petrini today, may 25.

On May 14, Councilor Cannon after hearing from the SOURCE about the dog park grant denied, emailed City of Framingham Planning & Community Development Director Kevin Shea.

Cannon wrote “Kevin, I’m having trouble finding the Community Development Community’s agenda where the dog park application (and other applications) were discussed. I also don’t see any background material on this or any other applications. Could you point me in the right direction? I’m told the matter may have been voted on, which would surprise me as it doesn’t seem to have been posted in accordance with the Open Meeting Law.”

On May 20, Shea emailed Councilor Cannon “Please find attached the meeting legal notices and minutes relative to the Community Development Committee process on recommending the HUD CDBG  projects to be funded in the next fiscal year. The process began this past January and ended with the public hearing this past Monday May 17th. All meetings were also recorded.”

That same day on May 20, Councilor Cannon replied to Shea “Thanks, Kevin. However, the postings of the meeting do not reference at all which applications will be discussed. Your agendas ​provide the public no advance notice of what matters are being considered. Additionally, public participation is not on the agenda at all.”

Councilor Cannon wrote to Shea “I’m puzzled why this is your practice. I’ve heard from several residents concerned that there seems to have been a vote on a park-related projected, but the discussion was never posted and the public had no opportunity to weigh in prior to a vote being taken (I am still unclear if the vote was taken). Your minutes reflect considerable discussion which was not noted on the agenda. This seems unfair to the public, and inconsistent with policy. What is your proposal to correct this?”

Yesterday, May 24, Cannon again emailed Shea and wrote “Hi Kevin, just following up on this. I remain as puzzled about this as I was when I contacted you ten days ago. There is nothing in the posted meeting agendas alerting the public that the dog park application (for example) was going to be discussed at an upcoming meeting, never mind voted on. Are you or your Assistant Director reviewing the agendas before they’re posting? This was an issue before your department and I recall you committing to a review process to insure that this didn’t happen again.”

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