|North Adams Planning Board Found in Violation of Open Meeting|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff |
01:29PM / Wednesday, August 17, 2022
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The attorney general's office has found that the Planning Board failed to comply with Open Meeting Law during its March meeting when it approved an outdoor cannabis grow facility by voice vote.
The review stems from a complaint filed by
City Councilors Jennifer Barbeau and Marie T. Harpin and residents Diane Gallese-Parsons, Alice Cande and Thomas Cary.
While Assistant Attorney General KerryAnne Kilcoyne confirmed the OML violation she did not address the complainants' request to void the vote and special permit in her decision.
At issue was the board's failure to follow the roll-call vote procedure for remote meetings. All nine of the board members were participating remotely on March 14 when the vote to approve
New England Alchemy LLC's plans for an Ashland Street property was taken.
The decision sparked protests from neighbors outside the zone and Mayor Jennifer Macksey actually filed suit
against the board to stop the business.
The AG's office, in an informal action, on Aug. 15 ordered the board's "immediate and future compliance with the law's requirements, and we caution that similar future violations could be considered evidence of intent to violate the law."
The requirement for roll call votes was part of the emergency measures passed during the pandemic to allow government bodies to continue to meet without having to gather in person.
The Planning Board, in its response to the complaint on April 26, acknowledged that it knew the law and had been following it and promised it would continue to do so during any further remote meetings.
In its response, the board noted that it did not respond within the timeframe of 14 business days because the complaint was unsigned, undated and not sent to the chair of the board.
The complainants attached a signature sheet they signed on March 22 but not a date on the form itself and then sent it to the attorney general's office rather than to the board, according to the planners.
Board Chairman Brian Miksic said he received it on April 14 at 5:27 p.m. The special meeting to respond was held on April 25.
However, Kilcoyne disagreed, saying (in a footnote) the attachment to the form "contained the name, address, contact information and signature of each complainant, as well as the date that each complainant signed the form." She did not refer to how the complaint was initially filed but the complaint was emailed to the city clerk on March 22, according to a screenshot sent by Harpin on Thursday.
She did point to the discrepancy in the meeting minutes of a "9-1" vote that was not raised by the complainants (and was only noted after the minutes were published). The board only has nine members.
Open Meeting Law requires "accurate minutes of all meetings," Kilcoyne wrote, and encouraged the board to "revise its minutes to accurately reflect the votes that were taken during the meeting."
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