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Massachusetts defines open meetings exemptions narrowly

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  1. Freedom of Information
A school committee can hold an open meeting on the overall competence of a superintendent even if the written performance…

A school committee can hold an open meeting on the overall competence of a superintendent even if the written performance evaluation is exempt from public disclosure, the Massachusetts high court has ruled.

The Massachusetts Municipal Law Blog reported that Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, reversing a lower court’s decision, ruled that a school committee in Wayland should have met in open session to discuss the overall professional competence of its superintendent, but properly closed the portion of the meeting that dealt with drafting a written performance evaluation.

The case began in 2005 when a newspaper reporter for the Wayland Town Crier filed a complaint against the Wayland school committee, alleging the committee violated the open meetings law when it discussed the superintendent’s performance evaluation over email and in two closed executive sessions, instead of in an open session as expressly required by the open meeting law.

The open meetings law, however, directly conflicts with a provision of the open records law that specifically exempts employee work evaluations from public disclosure.

“In light of the requirements of both the open meeting law and the public records law, the correct procedure in this case would have been for the school committee to meet in open session to discuss the professional competence of the superintendent. When the school committee reached the state of deliberations where the preparation and drafting of the written performance evaluation was imminent, it should have voted to adjourn to an executive session,” wrote Judge Francis Spina in the high court’s decision.

The court further held that the email exchanges between the committee members regarding the superintendent’s professional competence constituted a deliberation that improperly circumvented the requirements of the open meeting law.