When I was appointed to the Town Meeting Review Study Committee (TMRSC), I was required to go through Open Meeting Law training and sign a document accordingly. Our incredible town clerk, Mike Bouchard, stated it very succinctly, "You're doing the public's business, and so it needs to be in public."
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, unless the committee has no jurisdiction in the matter. Of course, jurisdiction is nebulous, especially when it might be indirect, through intermediaries or influence, rather than direct control. Keep in mind that Open Meeting Law is about deliberations, not decisions.
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. For example, the excellent work performed by the TMRSC would not have been possible without understanding the various viewpoints members presented. Our membership is very diverse, and it is exactly those different perspectives that allowed us to collaborate, come to consensus and prepare a document with excellent recommendations. This took many hours and quite a bit of discussion.
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 claims otherwise. 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.
I believe in transparency. I believe that an elected or appointed individual within the town of Groton should avoid even the appearance otherwise. Groton deserves nothing less.
Barry A. Pease
candidate for Board of Selectmen, Groton
P.S. For more information on this matter, I would refer people to the attorney general's guide: http://www.mass.gov/ago/docs/government/oml/oml-guide.pdf
Specifically, I encourage people to review page 3, paragraphs 2 and 3.