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AG Rules Portsmouth Council Violated Open Meetings Act

The violation occurred during an Oct. 29 Town Council meeting.

When members of the Portsmouth Town Council met on Oct. 29 of last year, an item on the agenda described a discussion topic as "request for additional funding for the mothballing of the former Elmhurst School Chapel."

But during that meeting, council members ended up voting in favor of demolishing the structure and because the language on the agenda wasn't explicit, the state Attorney General ruled, the council was in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

The AG's action stems from an OMA complaint filed against the council by John Vitkevich, who alleged that the council failed to specify the nature of the business being discussed at the meeting and allowed "a vote to develop a phasing plan for demolition of the Elmhurst Chapel which was not on the agenda."

Town Solicitor Kevin P. Gavin argued that the council did properly post notice of the meeting and made a memo prior to the meeting available to the public that outlined the process and included an option for demolition in addition to the cost required for mothballing the Chapel.

Gavin also cited prior rulings that determine that an agenda item is not misleading when it doesn't "include a verbatim list of every potential aspect that might be discussed in relation to a specific matter."

But in the ruling, the AG said all meeting notices must include a statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed and although the standard is "somewhat flexible," the council did violate the OMA with its vote because the agenda didn't make it clear that a vote for demolition was possible.

In fact, using Gavin's own argument, the AG determined that the town's response "makes clear that 'mothballing' and 'demolition' represented to distinct alternatives" and the vote to demolish came "despite the 'mothballing'" agenda.

The town will not face any fines or penalties, including a reversal of the council's vote, because neither remedy is appropriate, the AG said in its ruling.

Nobody on the council "willfully or knowingly" violated the OMA, the ruling states. The council subsequently voted in favor of demolishing the chapel at its Nov. 25 meeting and nobody has raised questions about that vote.

For the complete ruling, see the attached letter. (Click download .PDF to grab it).

Chris Carruba April 22, 2014 at 09:04 AM
Just more backroom politics...
John Flanders April 23, 2014 at 08:10 AM
Same crap, different day.
Tea Party Shill April 24, 2014 at 03:51 PM
JoJo, you didn't seem to mind when you fellow baggers violated the open meetings law on a weekly basis.

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