Closed Meeting Crash
Check your local select board or city council’s agenda some time, and you may see “executive session” listed as an item, along with the items that are up for discussion in that private session. With such important matters as collective bargaining, criminal misconduct by public employees, litigation against a city or town, and screening of applicants for public jobs being discussed during these private sessions, it is important that the public obtain access to the records of such meetings in a timely fashion in order to ensure accountability among their elected leaders.
Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30A, Section 22, local government bodies are required to review executive session minutes at “reasonable intervals”, to determine whether or not it is appropriate to release them. This language is vague enough to allow local boards to slack off on reviewing and releasing executive session minutes for years at a time.
This project will take one county at a time, focusing first on the city councils and select boards of Bristol County. The first goal of this project is to just see who responds, how long it takes, and how much money they charge. Once the minutes are made available, they will be posted online for local reporters and citizens to peruse at their leisure.
Getting several years of meeting minutes from Massachusetts cities and towns isn’t easy - but it would be if each municipality kept up with reviewing and releasing non-exempt minutes regularly. Like they’re legally required to do.
Massachusetts is known for its habit of keeping public records private, and that lack of transparency isn’t limited to officials at the state level. While we can all agree that Massachusetts’ open meeting and public records laws exist on paper, actually using these laws to find out what’s going on during the executive sessions of city council and select board meetings is another thing entirely.