The Worcester, Mass., district attorney’s office has ruled that a search committee for a new Westborough town counsel violated the state open meeting law when it narrowed a field of 24 applicants to just one, who was then recommended to the Board of Selectmen and hired, the MetroWest Daily News reports today. Assistant DAs Patricia C. Smith and Robert Bender sent a letter to the selectmen saying:
“It is the opinion of the District Attorney’s Office that the Search Committee narrowed the field of candidates in executive session beyond what is permitted as preliminary screening. Passing over all but a single candidate in executive session is not ‘preliminary screening’ and is prohibited.”
MetroWest Daily News reporter Sarah Menesale first reported about the closed search process on Sept. 15. At the time, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Richard K. Lodge, wrote to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte to register a formal complaint about the search process. Lodge wrote, in part:
“Our complaint stems from our belief that Open Meeting Law was violated when the search committee evaded the requirement they settle on a number of finalists, who would then be publicly identified and interviewed in an open session. The search committee went from 24 applicants in secret to a single finalist in public, thereby shutting out any public access to the process or the qualifications of a pool of finalists.”
With the DA’s ruling, the search committee will now be required to go back and recommend at least three candidates to the Board of Selectman to be publicly considered in an open session, Menesale reports.