“You’re doing the public’s business, so it needs to be in public.” That’s the way our incredible Town Clerk, Mike Bouchard, explained open government when I was appointed to the Town Meeting Review Study Committee a few years ago at his training session on observing the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. I take the ideas of OML to heart.
The Open Meeting Law is about deliberations, not decisions. the Open Meeting Law “seeks to balance the public’s interest in witnessing the deliberations of public officials with the government’s need to manage its operations efficiently.” Basically, the law aims to make certain that deliberation is done in public. Of course, jurisdiction is nebulous, especially when it might be indirect, through intermediaries or influence, rather than direct control.
Yes, the Open Meeting Law sometimes makes governance less efficient. But this is our democracy, and delay is preferable to the alternative of a closed-door discussion and all of the questions it would raise. Efficiency at the expense of excellence is simply unacceptable. If expediency in a matter is required, there are provisions for calling an emergency meeting, which can be taped for the public’s review. The law has been expanded to allow for remote participation in some cases. I am unable to discover a rational argument to validate any unofficial discussions. When combined with the possibility to expose our town to possible legal expenses and the associated embarrassment, skirting the edges of the Open Meeting Law is a bad choice, and simply unacceptable.
Aside from following the spirit of the law, there are other reasons for meeting as a group. A good team with different perspectives will produce synergistic results in an open discussion. Yes, this might not be the most expedient, and often important issues may take hours of discussion over several meetings. More often in Groton’s committees, people have contemplated the issues and done research, and they can present their ideas, thoughts, findings and recommendations in an open environment, using reason and dialogue to persuade others, reaching decisions in a timely fashion for any scheduled agenda item.
I believe in trust via transparency. The discussions, budgets, documents, and presentations should be made easily available to all. In today’s digital era, citizens expect immediate and direct access to information. As a member of the Board of Selectmen, it will be my job to make sure that Town Hall continues to make all documents available as rapidly and inexpensively as possible. Aside from informing the citizenry, it’s also a way to include everyone in the process. This is our town, and nothing should be unnecessarily withheld or delayed from the public’s view. I believe that an elected or appointed individual within the Town of Groton should avoid even the appearance of violating the public’s trust. Groton deserves nothing less.