In recent weeks all of the newly elected public officials, including the incoming Area Councillors from Waban, Upper Falls, Newton Highlands and Newtonville attended a mandatory training class on the state Open Meeting Law.   Briefly, the law requires that all substantial discussions by elected boards take place in open meetings that the public can attend rather than in the proverbial “smoke filled back rooms” of yesteryear.

For many of the new elected officials, the detailed constraints and requirements of the Open Meeting Law were an unexpected revelation.  Here’s a post (from another thread) from Waban Area Councillor Sallee Lipschutz about the topic.

@Ted: I would like to address an issue with you about which, even after training, I am a novice: The Open Meeting Law. If someone wants to start another thread, fine. But this thread raised the issue for me. Here’s my quandary. I have been led to believe that, as an Area Councilor, I (or you, as Alderman) am “forbidden” from discussing with a quorum of my peers any issue on which our government body might take action, unless at a properly advertised “open meeting” of that body.

Yesterday, when Jerry posted the article <about the Public Nuisance Ordinance>, I began writing a response that raised questions without stating my position on the matter (Who knows when Waban’s Area Council might decide to take a position on the proposed ordinance!). I felt restricted from expressing my strong opinions on the ordinance and so erased my words and didn’t comment.

Today I see you, as an Alderman who will be voting on this ordinance, have already said how you will vote so that the other 23 Alderman (if they read this blog) know your thoughts outside of an “Open Meeting” on the issue. While that is very liberating to me (I didn’t like keeping my thoughts to myself yesterday), it is also confusing. Wouldn’t making your position known on the blogosphere be considered “deliberating”, since it might influence the other Aldermen outside of the Aldermanic Chambers? Would it only be a worry if 13 of the 24 Aldermen (if a majority were needed to pass the ordinance), stated their opinions “out loud” and outside City Hall? Will you please weigh in on how you determine how much of our First Amendment rights as citizens first, and, as government players, second, are constrained by the Open Meeting Law.

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