HARVARD -- The chairman of the Town Hall Building Committee has offered an official apology after one resident filed a complaint against him regarding a violation of the state's open meeting law.
The complaint stems from emails sent between Chairman Pete Jackson and other members of the committee regarding input to the selectmen on the latest Town Hall renovation plans.
Deborah Skauen-Hinchliffe of Still River Road filed the complaint after asking for emails between committee members, LLB Architects and DTI, the construction firm for the project.
She requested all emails from October 2013 to March 18 of this year.
In a few of the emails, which Skauen-Hinchliffe sent to the Harvard Hillside, Jackson asks members to submit their comments on the LLB plan for Town Hall. Some emails are directed only to individual members, while others are to members Eric Broadbent, Tim Clark and Chris Cutler.
In her complaint, Skauen-Hinchliffe claims Jackson violated the law by "engaging in conversations and emails with a majority of committee members."
Under the law, a quorum of committee members may not deliberate outside of a public meeting. Members can, however, distribute meeting agendas, schedules or reports that will be discussed in an open meeting as long as no member presents his or her opinion.
In one Jan. 24 email, Jackson told the three other members to feel free to edit a memo to the Board of Selectmen.
But he warned members against engaging in conversation with the whole group.
"Please reply to me, do not use reply all so we don't violate the open meeting law," he said. "Feel free to discuss this one-on-one with each other."
In another Jan. 22 email sent to committee members, Jackson attached the LLB proposal that selectmen approved.
He wrote that he was concerned with the use of the existing addition.
"Previously, during the SD phase and more recently, LLB has commented on the feasibility of renovating the addition," he wrote. "It never made sense to pour money into this part of the building only to wind up with inefficient space."
Jackson said the committee has to be able to send one-way emails out about when to meet or drafts of documents to bring up at the next meeting. He reasoned that at one point, somebody must have hit "reply all" in the emails.
But Jackson said that everything was also discussed in a posted meeting.
"Any voting, any finalization of any of those comments were done in open meeting," he said.
Skauen-Hinchliffe said the emails should be available in town offices.
"You are not allowed to email that way ever," she said. "Not ever."
She asked that Jackson apologize to the town in her original complaint dated April 10, but said he did not respond within the 14 days given under the law.
Jackson, who filed an apology with the town clerk on May 9, said the initial complaint never reached him within the appropriate time frame.
He did not even know about it until he got a call from the Attorney General's office asking him if he was going to do anything about the complaint, he said.
"I hadn't received it and they said that they would follow through and find out where it was," he said.
When he did get the complaint, he said, he responded right away.
Jackson said this is the fourth time Skauen-Hinchliffe has asked for documents from the committee. Of all of the emails and letters he sent her, this is the first time she has found something to complain about, he said.
Skauen-Hinchliffe said an awful lot of money has been spent by the committee, and she wanted to know what they had been doing since Town Meeting.
"It's a lot of money that has been wasted, from my point of view," she said.
But Jackson said her search has taken a lot of his time and her own time.
"The one thing she found really isn't that relevant, it's more the principle," he said. "It was in violation of the open meeting law, but the subject matter had really no impact."
Selectmen took over the Town Hall renovation project from the committee in November, after voters rejected a request for an additional $1 million.
Jackson issued a formal apology to the town clerk on May 9, according to documents Skauen-Hinchliffe sent to the Hillside.
"Speaking for the Town Hall Building Committee, I apologize for this violation and I will remind the committee to comply with the open meeting law," he wrote in the letter.
Now, the Attorney General's office is giving Skauen-Hinchliffe until June 30 to decide if she would like to file for further review. She said she has not decided.
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