Open Meeting Law Complaint Filed Against Westfield Councilor David Flaherty

City Councilor David Flaherty has been accused of violating open meeting laws.
City Councilor David Flaherty has been accused of violating open meeting laws.

According the Attorney General's website, any deliberative communication between a quorum of a body about a matter within that body's jurisdiction is a violation of the state's open meeting laws. From the AG's website:

The Open Meeting Law defines deliberation as "an oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction." Distribution of a meeting agenda, scheduling or procedural information, or reports or documents that may be discussed at a meeting is often helpful to public body members when preparing for upcoming meetings and will generally not constitute deliberation, provided that when these materials are distributed no member of the public body expresses an opinion on matters within the body's jurisdiction.

Steve Dondley, who filed the complaint with the City Clerk's office earlier today, said, "Though I'm not a lawyer, this appear to be a pretty egregious violation of the law as I read it." Dondley also said he almost filed another complaint against Flaherty "one or two years ago" but decided against it. "I don't want to appear like some petty crank. But to my mind, this second instance establishes a clear pattern for his flagrant disregard for the law. I felt I had to file it this time. Citizens obviously should have a right to know how their public officials make the decisions that impact the community."

The open meeting law was overhauled in 2010 to clarify the definition of a deliberation and more clearly defined what constituted a violation. Penalties for violating the law remain light, with a maximum penalty of $1000 for the body that violates it intentionally. Dondley says he suspects that Flaherty knew he was violating the law because 9 of the 10 emails sent were to the other city councilor's private email addresses perhaps in an attempt to cover it up. "It's hard for me to imagine any public official being so ignorant of the law as to not know the email most likely constituted a violation of the spirit and letter of the law," Dondley said. Dondley also wondered how much other communication went on between city councilors in the past without public knowledge. He is asking for the city council to publicly reprimand Councilor Flaherty and implement a policy that would require that any official business between two public official concerning official business, and that is not of a purely personal or political nature, be done using official Westfield email addresses so they could be obtained by the public using a FOIA request.

The matter will now go before the City Council which will have the opportunity to act upon the allegations.

Below is the full text of the email sent by Councilor Flaherty to the other councilors:

Subject: Re: Finance Committee Recommended Budget Cuts 

And the fun begins....

Here's an email from Prometheus (Mr. Dondley), advocating under the name "Save Westfield Schools":

"Mayor Daniel Knapik was interviewed on WSHM-TV just a short
while ago and said that the budget cuts proposed by the City Council will
mean a $700K to the school's budget and layoffs. A public school committee
meeting will be held tonight at South Middle School's auditorium at 7pm to
discuss the cuts. Residents are encouraged to attend. Commenting on the cuts,
Mayor Knapik said, "I understand what they are trying to do but they kind of
went about it in a bit of a reckless fashion."   The budget will be
addressed at Wednesday's City Council meeting on Wednesday in the auditorium
of South Middle School as well."

We are bound to see push back on any cuts - no matter where they are made. 

These cuts were hardly made in a "reckless fashion". I'd think the chair and members
of the finance committee would take great insult at that characterization. In most cases,
an across the board 1.25% cut was made. 

The mayor has had months to fix the deficit in the budget, yet he refused to do it. He sent 
us a budget that was about $380K in deficit (even though several councilors insisted that he 
must send us a balanced budget), maximized tax increases, didn't reserve anything for debt 
decline, and didn't adequately fund several key expenses (such as police cars, 
severances, and normal overtime). 

The city has great financial challenges, and I hope you all individually try to understand 
all the details before you are swayed one way or the other. If you think anything is 
"reckless" or otherwise unsavory, I'd encourage you to propose an alternative that reduces 
the cut in one area with a dollar-for-dollar increased cut in other areas.

As discussed in the Finance Committee meetings, the latest long-term budget

(the last one that addressed my questions and updated the totals) was just discovered to

be off by $400,000 per year compounded going forward ($400 next year, $800
the year after, $1.2M the year after that, and $1.6M the year after that). This

means next year's budget is already in deficit, and future budgets have about
1/2 of 1% wiggle room before being in deficit. This $400K has been confirmed by the 
auditor, but the mayor has asked that these edits not be given to us yet.

When was the last time you saw a budget that was accurate within 
1/2 of 1% 2-4 years out?