New Open Meeting Law Commission Sets First Meeting

A representative of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association will be among those in attendance when the new Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Advisory Commission holds its first meeting this Friday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m., at the Attorney General’s office in Boston. The AG’s office posted the meeting notice and agenda today.

The five-member commission was created as part of the new open meeting law that took effect July 1. The MNPA is expressly authorized to designate one of the five members. MNPA President Oreste D’Arconte named executive director Robert Ambrogi to fill the seat.

Section 19(c) of the law says:

There shall be an open meeting law advisory commission. The commission shall consist of 5 members, 2 of whom shall be the chairmen of the joint committee on state administration and regulatory oversight, 1 of whom shall be the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association or his designee, 1 of whom shall be the president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association or his designee, and 1 of whom shall be the attorney general or his designee.

The commission shall review issues relative to the open meeting law and shall submit to the attorney general recommendations for changes to the regulations, trainings, and educational initiatives relative to the open meeting law as it deems necessary and appropriate.

The law also provides that the AG is to report to the commission annually on the enforcement of the open meeting law.

Survey of Media Access to Mass. Courts

The Judiciary/Media Committee of the Supreme Judicial Court is considering revisions to the Guidelines on the Public’s Right of Access to Judicial Proceedings and Records. In order to evaluate whether the guidelines should be amended or expanded and what other initiatives the committee might wish to pursue, the committee is asking members of the news media to complete a survey on media access to the courts.

As a member of the Judiciary/Media Committee, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association is helping to disseminate the survey and compile its results. If you are a journalist who covers the Massachusetts courts, please take a moment to complete the survey and return it promptly to the address indicated.

You can download the survey here, in Microsoft Word format: Survey of Media Access to Courts.

SJC Issues Key Open Meeting Ruling

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today issued its ruling in a key open meeting law case, District Attorney for the Northern District v. School Committee of Wayland. The SJC ruled that the School Committee violated the law when it met in a closed session to discuss the performance evaluation of Wayland’s superintendent of schools and when it exchanged private e-mails regarding the evaluation in advance of the meeting.

In so ruling, the SJC sides with the position taken by the district attorney and by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association in an amicus brief it filed in the case. The case was initiated by a complaint filed by a reporter for the Wayland Town Crier.

The ruling is significant for three reasons:

  • It affirms that discussions of a government employee’s “professional competence” must be conducted in public.
  • It affirms that an exchange of e-mails among the members of a public body can constitute “deliberation” and therefore violate the open meeting law.
  • It clarifies a seeming conflict between the open meeting law and the public records law. While the discussion of an employee’s performance evaluation must take place in an open meeting, once the evaluation is reduced to a written evaluation document, that document need not be made public.

The School Committee had argued that the evaluation was a prelude to contract negotiations with the superintendent and therefore was exempt as a strategy session in preparation for negotiations. But the SJC said that there was no evidence that the committee discussed strategy.

This is an important ruling for affirming the right of the public to know how their local officials are performing in their jobs. The public has a right to know when a local official is performing well or performing poorly.

Federal Reserve President to Keynote Annual Meeting

Please join us for the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009, at Anthony’s Pier 4 in Boston.

Our annual luncheon will feature an address by Eric S. Rosengren, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Mr. Rosengren will speak about the economic climate in the region and the nation.

Our morning panel, “Protecting Your Newspaper in the Digital Age,” will focus on what newspapers need to know about protecting their content, brands and businesses online. A panel of speakers will address common questions about copyright and trademark law, offer advice on how to protect against infringement, and discuss whether you should have a written social-media policy for your newsrooms.

The day’s agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m.   Annual business meeting and election of 2010 officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m. Panel discussion: “Protecting Your Newspaper in the Digital Age”
  • Noon Networking reception (open bar)
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote.
  • 1:30 p.m. Adjourn.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $75 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $85 for all others.

To register, fill out this form (PDF) and send it, along with your payment to the address shown on the form.

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 546-3400 or info@masspublishers.org.

SJC to Hear Key Open Meeting Case Monday

An important case interpreting the Massachusetts open meeting law comes up for argument before the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday. The case, District Attorney v. Wayland School Committee, presents the question of whether a school committee violated the law when it met in closed session to discuss the performance evaluation of the school superintendent.

(Note: The MNPA filed an amicus brief in this case in support of the District Attorney.)

The open meeting law requires that all committee meetings be open to the public except those that fall within express exceptions. This case involves the exception that allows a committee to meet in private “to discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health rather than the professional competence of an individual.” That italicized phrase is understood to mean that professional competence cannot be the subject of a closed meeting.

Despite that, the trial judge in this case relied on a separate exception to rule that the closed-door meeting was lawful. That exception allows a private meeting to “conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel, to conduct collective bargaining sessions or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel.”

The trial judge reasoned that because the superintendent was compensated pursuant to a written contract, and given that the amount of compensation was to be based, in part, on the evaluation, then the evaluation, itself, was to be considered part of the contract negotiation.

The problem with this reasoning is that it renders meaningless the professional competence exclusion noted above. Professional competence is a nearly universal measure on which employers base employment decisions. If every discussion of professional competence is to be considered a prelude to an employment-related decision, then it could always be discussed in private, under the trial judge’s reasoning.

Interest in the case drew amicus briefs not just from the MNPA, but also from the Mass. Municipal Association, the Mass. Association of School Superintendents, and the Mass. Association of School Committees. You can read the briefs at the SJC’s site and watch Monday’s oral arguments via webcam.

MNPA Elects New Officers

l_orestedarconteOreste P. D’Arconte, publisher of The Sun Chronicle, was elected president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association during the group’s annual meeting Dec. 5 at Anthony’s Pier 4. D’Arconte has been publisher since 1998 and has been with The Sun Chronicle and a predecessor, The Attleboro Sun, for 39 years. He succeeds Larry McDermott, publisher and chief executive officer of The Republican in Springfield.

Elected with D’Arconte were:

Retired Supreme Court justice John M. Greaney, now with Suffolk Law School, was the luncheon speaker.

In addition to the MNPA, D’Arconte is board secretary for the New England Press Association and chairman of its annual convention in February, and is contest committee chairman for the New England Newspaper Association.

MNPA Elects New Officers

l_orestedarconteOreste P. D’Arconte, publisher of The Sun Chronicle, was elected president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association during the group’s annual meeting Dec. 5 at Anthony’s Pier 4. D’Arconte has been publisher since 1998 and has been with The Sun Chronicle and a predecessor, The Attleboro Sun, for 39 years. He succeeds Larry McDermott, publisher and chief executive officer of The Republican in Springfield.

Elected with D’Arconte were:

Retired Supreme Court justice John M. Greaney, now with Suffolk Law School, was the luncheon speaker.

In addition to the MNPA, D’Arconte is board secretary for the New England Press Association and chairman of its annual convention in February, and is contest committee chairman for the New England Newspaper Association.

Still Time to Register: MNPA Annual Meeting

The annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association is this Friday, Dec. 5. There is still time to register and you can do so using the 2008 registration form.

Our luncheon speaker is retiring Supreme Judicial Court Justice John M. Greaney, longtime cochair of the SJC’s Judiciary-Media Committee. Today is his last day at the court before he joins the Suffolk University Law School faculty. (See Saturday’s profile of Justice Greaney by AP writer Denise Lavoie.)

Our morning panel will explore the legal issues surrounding blogs and comments on newspaper-hosted Web sites. Three experts will share their insights and advice:

The day begins with the MNPA’s annual business meeting at 10 a.m., followed by the panel discussion at 11, a reception at noon and the luncheon at 12:30. The event is being held at Anthony’s Pier 4 in Boston.

Questions? E-mail info@masspublishers.org.