Rockport’s secret society

There has been a lot going on in the Knox County town of Rockport during the past few months but most of it has transpired behind closed doors.
The secret society began when the Selectboard received a complaint about the town manager — although the board is not even acknowledging it was about the town manager.
After a series of closed-door meetings and numerous conversations with lawyers, the town agreed to pay off Peabody. The town paid Peabody $52,836 in exchange for his resignation.
A second employee, a probationary worker hired by Peabody, was fired a week after Peabody was placed on paid leave prior to his resignation and severance.
The nature of the complaint against Peabody was never released.
This is a loophole in the state’s Freedom of Access law. If a public official is being investigated, the person can simply resign before a final written disciplinary action is taken. Or the person can finagle a severance and again resign so that there is no paper trail for the citizens/taxpayers to be given.
Immediately after the costly departure of Peabody, the Rockport Selectboard decided to appoint members to a Town Manager Search Committee. The discussion on the selection was done in closed sessions.
The search committee held an organizational meeting and even elected its chair and vice chair in — you got it — a closed-door meeting.
The committee is now developing questions for potential applicants and again, all is behind closed doors.
The town cites a section in its charter that requires the committee’s activities to all be done in executive sessions a/k/a closed-door meetings.
But state law has a different requirement. Personnel matters are allowed to be in private but only if those discussions can reasonably be expected to cause damage to the reputation of an individual or if someone’s right to privacy would be violated.
General discussions on how the search will be conducted and what characteristics the new manager should have certainly would not damage anyone’s reputation nor violate anyone’s right to privacy.
The chairman of the Selectboard acknowledged today that the town erred in having the organizational meeting of the committee conducted in closed session. He maintains, however, at the advice of the town’s attorney that the remainder of the activities can be done outside public view.
“As to the reasoning behind the use of executive session for the development of the rating scheme and questionnaire: these need to be in executive session because of the unfair advantage one candidate might gain by knowing the questions that will be asked and how much weight the committee will be giving to the questions in relation to the answers provided,” the chairman stated in an e-mail Thursday.
The board should realize that the community will have more faith in the board’s actions if citizens know what is going on their behalf.
Decisions are better when the debate leading up to them is done in the open.
An open society is better than a secret society.