County Commissioners refuse to release public records & reject citizen call for transparency in Woodlot decision-making

Update: September 27, 2018

Citizens for a Better Plymouth and local residents continue to seek transparency in the County’ Commissioners’ decision making about the publicly-owned County Woodlot.  The three County Commissioners, led by Chair Dan Pallotta, continue to stonewall and rebuff all efforts by residents to obtain public records of County meetings and answers to questions about the County’s process for the sale and lease of the Woodlot.

Beginning in August 2018, residents made Public Record Requests for the minutes of Commissioners’ meetings over the last three years.  When the County refused to comply with the Public Records law and Open Meeting Law, attorney Sheehan filed a complaint under the Open Meeting Law.  See the complaint here: OMLComplaint

The crux of the Open Meeting Law complaint is that the County Commissioners unlawfully entered in to executive session about 20 times from 2016-2018 to discuss the Woodlot and other matters.  Not only did they unlawfully enter executive session, but now they refuse to produce minutes of 20 executive sessions where decisions were made.  The Commissioners also violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to identify documents they relied on in executive session.  The Commissioners refusal to produce the minutes is illegal and will be appealed to the Attorney General’s Office.

The Commissioners have also violated a critical state law restricting their authority to sell or lease real property.  Under Chapter 34, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Commissioners have to follow a state-mandated procedure before selling or leasing real property such as the mining rights in the Woodlot.  It appears that for years the Commissioners have been ignoring this law – not only for the Woodlot but for the sale of the courthouse at 155 Elm Street in Brockton and other real property held by the Commissioners for the public benefit.

In September 2018, over 45 concerned residents sent the Commissioners a letter alerting them to the violation of Chapter 34 process for sale and lease of the Woodlot and asking for an explanation.  2018.09.25_CountyViolationsLetterUpdated-1 In a curt letter on September 19, 2018, the Commissioners denied any violation, with no explanation.  County Response to Chapter 34 violations 2018.09.19  Attorney Sheehan, for the residents, promptly responded asking the Commissioners for an explanation of why they think Chapter 34 does not apply to them.  2018.09.25_ResidentsResponseCountyViolationsChapter34-1An explanation from the Commissioners is critical to the future of the Woodlot.

We want to know exactly why the Plymouth County Commissioners think they can violate a state law and sell and lease real property in violation of Chapter 34,  14 — making decisions about the sale and lease in executive sessions behind closed doors — and then refuse to provide the public with minutes and documents under the Public Records Law.

Our state has very strong laws promoting open government and transparency in decision making by public bodies like the County.  The County Commissioners have violated these laws with impunity for far too long.  Today, the consequences of their unlawful actions and blatant disregard for any sort of legitimate public input is playing out in the destruction of the publicly owned County Woodlot.  Commissioner Pallotta’s hand-picked “Woodlot Subcommittee” that he claims is intended to get public input is a sham.  The process for appointing members was closed-doors.  He refused to include a representative of the conservation community, instead picking only members who he knows will follow his party line.  The Commissioners must act with full transparency and accountability to the public.

A wide cross section of the community is coming together to demand transparency in Plymouth County government.  This effort will succeed and although part of the Woodlot is being lost to illegal timber removal, road building, and sand and gravel mining  the remainder of this public land is worth fighting for.

Stay tuned and get in touch if you would like to join our effort.

 

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