Chelmsford Select Board did not violate Open Meeting Law

Bizar Male

CHELMSFORD – The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office determined that the Chelmsford Select Board was not in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law after a Chelmsford resident filed a complaint against the Board last year, as the Sun previously reported.

The complaint, filed in May 2020 by former Select Board member Sam Chase, alleged that the Select Board improperly entered into a private executive session in January 2020 to determine the fate of Town Manager Paul Cohen’s contract extension. It also alleged that the discussion violated the Town Charter, and that the minutes from that session were inaccurate.

In that executive session, which was partly convened to discuss the “strategy with respect to negotiations with the Town Manager regarding a new employment agreement,” Select Board member George Dixon made a motion “not to renew the Town Manager’s employment agreement” and the Board voted, 4-1, not to renew Cohen’s contract. Select Board member Pat Wojtas was the sole “no” vote.

The Board then called Cohen into the room to share the result of the vote, and told him he could remain in his position until the end of the fiscal year. Cohen was surprised by the vote, and asked the Board to defer sharing the result of the vote until he had time to process it himself.

The Select Board agreed to defer announcing the vote publicly, and entered into the minutes that the contract negotiations were tabled. (In March 2020, the Board granted Cohen a one-year contract extension until Jun. 30, 2021, with the understanding that he would apply for new jobs in the interim.)

The decision explained that the discussion in that executive session generally fit within the guidelines of its stated goal in a Jan. 29 letter signed by Assistant Attorney General KerryAnne Kilcoyne. The letter also said that the vote taken in the executive session was not in violation of the Open Meeting Law because the vote “was simply deciding on a course of action with respect to the future employment of the Town Manager and was not ratifying or executing a contract.”

The letter continued, saying that the minutes from the executive session were generally reflective of the discussions that occurred during the meeting. Finally, the letter said that the state’s Division of Open Government does not rule on whether a Board’s actions are in violation of an individual town’s charter.

The letter concludes by stating that the Chelmsford Select Board was not in violation of the Open Meeting Law and that the case is now closed.

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