Friday, October 6, 2017

Update on the Strategic Planning Committee OML Complaint

I'm beginning to think I should have labelled these as episodes.
When I last posted, I was waiting to see if I would get a response to my complaint by close of the allotted 14 day window, Tuesday, October 3.
Note, incidentally, that complaints are filed first with the body against whom the complaint is being made; it's right there in the first line of the FAQ on the Attorney General's page:
Individuals who allege a violation of the Open Meeting Law must first file a complaint with the public body alleged to have violated the OML.
emphasis is NOT added
Tuesday came and went.
I did not.
Wednesday and Thursday also came and went.
I did not.

Today, I received the following in the mail:

After Bowditch and Dewey letterhead and address, it says: 
Dear Ms. Novick: I'm enclosing a copy of our response to the Open Meeting Law Complaint Form which you prepared and which is dated September 19, 2017. Apparently, you have not yet filed this Complaint with the Attorney General's office.
As you will note, the so-called "Worcester Public Schools Strategic Planning Committee" is not subject to the Open Meeting Law.
Very truly yours,
Michael P. Angelini

Thus, before we get to the enclosure, we have at least two issues: the time is overdue, and the responding attorney does not know the process of how open meeting law complaints are handled in Massachusetts (it goes to the body before the AG). 

Here is the page and a half enclosure; I'll type up the text below. 

Re: Complaint of Tracy Novick regarding alleged violation of Open Meeting Law

Dear Attorney General Healey:
We represent the Worcester Educational Collaborative ("WEC") and the Worcester Regional Research Bureau ("WRRB"), which are the organizers of the so-called "Worcester Public Schools Strategic Planning Committee," the subject of an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Tracy Novick.
WEC is an operating division of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, an independent and qualified 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is "to engage the community in fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that excellence is education is available to all public school students and that they are prepared for success in college, career and life." WRRB is a 501(c)(3) organization which "conducts independent, non-partisan research and analysis of public policy issues to promote good governance and informed public debate and decision making."
Neither WEC nor WRRB are controlled, managed or affiliated with any political or governmental body.

WEC and WRRB have organized a strategic planning exercise, which includes various members of the Worcester community, to review public education in Worcester and to formulate a plan for excellence. This "Strategic Planning Committee is not a public body, is not advisory to a public body and has no power to implement any plan or action. It is not subject to the Open Meeting Law. It receives no financial support from the City of Worcester or any other governmental organization. The Committee's work has been funded by contributions from local individuals and organizations and by a grant from the Barr Foundation. It operates with complete independence.
The Committee's findings and recommendations will ultimately be presented to the Worcester community, including the Worcester School Committee, the Worcester City Counsel [sic], the Superintendent of Schools and the City Manager. These findings and recommendations will be advisory only.
Please contact me with any questions regarding the Complaint or this response.

(signature and so forth)

Public bodies are what are required to abide by the Open Meeting Law. Here--in full--is how Mass General Law Chapter 30A, Section 18 (the actual Open Meeting Law) defines a "public body" (emphasis mine):
''Public body'', a multiple-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branch or within any county, district, city, region or town, however created, elected, appointed or otherwise constituted, established to serve a public purpose; provided, however, that the governing board of a local housing, redevelopment or other similar authority shall be deemed a local public body; provided, further, that the governing board or body of any other authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose in the commonwealth or any part thereof shall be deemed a state public body; provided, further, that ''public body'' shall not include the general court or the committees or recess commissions thereof, bodies of the judicial branch or bodies appointed by a constitutional officer solely for the purpose of advising a constitutional officer and shall not include the board of bank incorporation or the policyholders protective board; and provided further, that a subcommittee shall include any multiple-member body created to advise or make recommendations to a public body.
Both the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee are public bodies.
And here's, again the last line of the final full paragraph:

These findings and recommendations will be advisory only.
A body created to advise a public body on something under its purview is itself a public body, subject to the Open Meeting Law.

It will take me a few days to write up the history here, but I'll be appealing to the Attorney General. 

An update to note why this bothers me so much:

Public education, as you hear me repeat all the time, is a public enterprise in the public interest made possible through public dollars. It literally is the foundation of our future democracy.

How dare anyone have the unmitigated gall to in secret assemble a committee--one which may or may not be representative, may or may not be from or in Worcester, may or may not be serving any sort of public interest--that deliberates entirely in secret and then, with (one assumes) great fanfare presents what they say is a "review of public education" and a "plan for excellence."

We spend $340 million a year on education in Worcester, and every last one of those is a public dollar. Honestly, though, for all that I harp about budgets, that doesn't bother me half as much as the 27,000 kids who are being educated, whose future education is currently being determined--excuse me, advised--by secret committee.

This sort of thing is PRECISELY why we have the Open Meeting Law. 

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