Monday, July 17, 2006

Freedom of Access and Executive Sessions in Millinocket, Maine

The internet is becoming an ever more powerful tool in the hands of Maine citizens who want all governmental bodies in the state to conduct their business ethically and openly. Our good friend Lance Dutson at Maine Web Report has been a virtual David against the Goliath of the Maine Office of Tourism.

I've been following the exploits of the Millinocket Magic City Morning Star, which describes itself as "a collective of volunteer news reporters, editors, columnists, and other independent media, who have come together to bring the news and other information in a timely fashion to an online readership." Lately, they've been championing the right of Maine citizens to know what's going on in their governmental bodies.

For many months now, they've been attempting to shine some light into the arcane workings of the Millinocket Town Council. The whole thing has come to a head with the council's recent decision to go into executive session in order to discuss Maine's Freedom of Access Law with its counsel.

The Freedom of Access Law is pretty specific as to which topics are allowed in executive session. The Millinocket Town Council's purpose in calling for an executive session does not seem to fall within those topics. The attorney for the council seemed to express that the matters could be discussed in public, but it was his preference not to do so:

[Attorney Dean Beaupain] continued, "Certainly as an attorney, I would much prefer to meet with my clients in executive session because we are going to be talking about opinions, we're going to be talking about options and we're going to be talking about the state law that may or may not be the state law. And I always do what my clients tell me to do. If you want to meet in public, we can do that. But I would prefer -- and I think this is certainly subject to executive session...but if you want to discuss it publicly, we can discuss it publicly."

The intent of Freedom of Access is to make everything that any governmental body does a matter of public record, except in a few, narrowly defined exceptions. It is not meant to be a shield for government to hide behind when there are things they "would much prefer" to discuss in private.

I say, more power to the Millinocket Magic City Morning Star. One of their reporters also has many excerpts of town council meetings posted at YouTube. Three real gems: the discussion about the executive session, and Michelle Anderson telling the council off for characterizing her online newspaper as "a threat to the community."



Update: Michelle Anderson gives us some more bizarre updates at the As Maine Goes forums. As one commenter puts it, "The only reason to hold this in executive session is to coach these nitwits on how to hide illegal meetings, and dispose of public records."

Update 7/20: In the category of "It's a small world," it seems that my mention of Lance Dutson above was more than as an example. It seems that one of the main characters in the Millinocket FOAA scandal, Matthew Polstein, is on the periphery of Lance's MOT dealings, since he's a member of the Maine Tourism Commission. And Lance has picked up the story, and gotten more exposure for Michelle and Ken Anderson. And wackiness ensues.

Linked to the following open trackback posts: Bloggin' Outloud, Don Surber, Dumb Ox, Right Wing Nation

Tagged as: