In an opinion released today, the state Appeals Court has held that the Boston City Council violated the state open meeting law at least once, and possibly several times. The confirmed violation was in 2005, when the City Council convened a meeting shortly after an accidental release of tularemia at a Boston University research facility created both a potential public health problem and a political problem relating to Boston University’s ongoing quest to build a laboratory in the South End to study the world’s most dangerous pathogens. (BU’s quest to open the scary-virus lab has been plagued by screw-ups, and IMHO remains a bad idea. More details and links are in this post.)
The Court began its opinion on a bad note for the city:
The city council of Boston (council) finds itself, not for the first time, on the losing end of a determination that it has improperly excluded the public from its deliberations.
When an opinion starts like that, you know it’s not going to go well for the city. The Court went on to conclude that the City Council definitely violated the open meeting law in 2005, after the tularemia release was reported:
On January 20, 2005, the council convened a “councillors only” meeting with a representative of Boston University (university) after having been advised by representatives of the Boston University Medical Center that a number of its researchers were exposed in the prior year to tularemia. As was the case in connection with the BRA closed meetings, not all of the councillors were of the view that the public could legally be excluded.
The meeting dealt specifically with public health issues; in particular, according to councillor Hennigan’s affidavit, she raised the question whether the tularemia outbreak at the university’s medical laboratory might be indicative of the university’s inability safely to operate a biolaboratory in a densely populated area….
In sum, the council failed to file a notice of a meeting to which all councillors were invited to “gather information to aid [them] in arriving at a decision” on a subject — the safety implications of the proposed biolaboratory siting — within the council’s jurisdiction. See Gerstein v. Superintendent Search Screening Comm., 405 Mass. at 470. The fact that, by chance, less than a quorum of councillors actually attended did not excuse the failure of notice. We note that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office issued a notice to Flaherty on March 21, 2005, stating in plain terms that the January 20, 2005, meeting was in violation of the open meeting law and recommending that “any meeting to which all City Councilors are invited should be posted pursuant to the [statute].”
The record thus demonstrates that the meeting of January 20, 2005, was a violation of the open meeting law.
There may have been other open meeting violations as well — the Court ordered additional proceedings in the trial court with respect to several meetings relating to the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal plans.
Meetings that the law requires to be open are closed. Legislation is killed behind closed doors to the benefit of politically-wired players. Other legislation for which politically-wired players
lobbied strategized is hustled through the House. And that’s just what’s come out in the last week! No wonder people are cynical.