Commentary by Frank Schroth
The recent vote by the Board of Selectmen in executive session not to renew Town Administrator Mearn’s contract has come as a bit of a shock to our municipal system.
Boston.com – Your Town Milton reports, “Board of Selectmen chairman Tom Hurley said this week that the board was advised it had violated the state’s Open Meeting Law by deciding on a contract in an executive session, and must revote in public after a 48-hour notice is given to residents and Mearn”. (Find the full story here.) It would be helpful if Town Counsel appeared at a Selectmen’s meeting and defined for the residents what is permissible and what isn’t, what is binding and what isn’t, within an executive session. As recently as last night there was discussion at a school committee meeting about a vote taken in executive session and whether not the vote needed to be repeated publicly or whether it was sufficient simply to report it out. A reading of the open meeting law exceptions does not appear to include such a vote as the Selectmen took but a public legal interpretation will put the debate to bed.
It has been reported here and elsewhere that in the executive session Mr. Hurley supported extending the contract and Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Keohane did not. The latter selectmen advocated a “fresh start” and Keohane additionally believes that communication between the Chief of Police and Town Administrator was problematic at best according to other press reports. Mr. Hurley has cited Mearn’s record as a reason for supporting an extension.
In the meantime Mr. Mearn has returned to town hall. He may attend tonight’s session. The board will be discussing among other items the status of the Hendries building. When that was last a topic for the board Chairman Hurley noted that two engineering studies were being done; one by the town and one by the firm developing the property, Connelly Construction. Concerns exist regarding the building’s structural condition and overall safety.
Regarding Mr. Mearn, it is not surprising that the decision by the selectmen has generated a strong and vigorous response from the public. We welcome those comments. Part of our mission is to give a voice to the community on issues that matter. However, we will not publish remarks that in our opinion characterize actions, decisions, or statements, regarding this issue or any issue, in an excessively inflammatory or unnecessarily insulting manner. We inadvertently published one such comment earlier an have removed it. Other online venues provide forums that are more permissive and readers can take advantage of them.
The Selectmen should, and we expect will, explain their reasoning on Monday. It is clear from some of the comments that have come in that the decision is a difficult one to understand. The contract expired and two of the selectmen have opted not to renew. Let’s hear what they say and finally decide.