The Recorder – With meeting minutes backlogged, Hawlemont School Committee in violation of Open Meeting Law
Published: 4/23/2022 11:11:47 AM
Modified: 4/23/2022 11:10:20 AM
CHARLEMONT — The state’s assistant attorney general has ordered Hawlemont Regional School District School Committee members to review the Open Meeting Law after informing its chair that the committee was in violation by failing to approve minutes in a timely manner and failing to complete required certification forms.
Assistant Attorney General Sarah Monahan addressed a letter to Chair Hussain Hamdan on April 13 to notify him that a determination of her office of a similar violation in the future may be considered evidence of intent to violate the law meant to guarantee governmental transparency.
“We order the committee to create and approve meeting minutes for all outstanding meetings to the best of its ability, through whatever means are available, including recordings and the notes and recollections of the attendees,” she wrote. “Within 90 days of receipt of this letter, the committee shall certify to our office that it has complied with this order to create and approve the missing meeting minutes.”
Monahan’s letter explained her office received a complaint from Flannery Geier on Feb. 28 alleging the committee violated the Open Meeting Law, having originally filed a complaint with the committee itself on Jan. 6. Hamdan reportedly responded to this complaint by email on Jan. 20.
Geier alleged the School Committee neglected to create and approve meeting minutes for all open sessions held from July 15, 2020, through Dec. 6, 2021. Geier also said committee members failed to complete the mandatory Open Meeting Law complaint form.
Reached by phone on Friday, Hamden conceded that there is a backlog of unprocessed minutes because a former committee secretary resigned a couple of years ago. He noted meetings held remotely during the pandemic were audio-recorded.
“The reason that audio recordings were being kept was so that minutes could be generated,” he said.
Hamdan said the recordings are available at the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts’ website, mtrsd.org.
He said a new committee secretary was chosen to address the backlog of minutes but that person, who recently resigned, focused on meetings held after she was appointed. Hamdan mentioned that whoever fills the role next should be aware the job will entail “doing catch-up.”
“The current school committee is all going to be gone within less than a month,” he said, “and I think that the minutes problem is going to be a problem for the new committee as well.”
Hamdan and committee member Beth Flaherty are not running for re-election. Charles Ricko, James Walsh and Suzanne Crawford plan to resign their seats effective on the day of their respective town elections. Ricko and Flaherty represent Charlemont, which will have its election on May 24. Walsh, Crawford and Hamdan represent Hawley, which has its election slated for May 2.
Attempts to contact Geier were unsuccessful Friday.
Monahan’s letter also requires the committee to complete certification forms — available on the Attorney General Office’s website — and file them with the office and the school district’s superintendent within 14 days of receipt of her letter.
Reach Domenic Poli at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.