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Scituate cleared of meeting violation

In a long-running controversy involving the Scituate Housing Authority, the state attorney general’s office ruled that Scituate officials did not violate the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Officials from the attorney general’s office have been reviewing the case since September, when the Patriot Ledger newspaper sent a complaint alleging that Scituate’s Board of Selectmen had illegally hosted a meeting in private.

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According to the Ledger, the board was violating the 2010 law that requires most government meetings to be public.

After a thorough review of the minutes and video of the proceedings, Assistant Attorney General Hanne Rush early this month sided with the town.

Town officials hailed the ruling.

“This ruling demonstrates that the Board, in consultation with Town Counsel, acted appropriately and complies with the requirements and precepts of the Open Meeting Law,” said Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi in an e-mail.

The allegation stemmed from meetings between the Board of Selectmen and Maryanne Lewis, a former member of the Scituate Housing Authority. State law requires all members of a town’s housing authority to sign off on the truthfulness of financial documents “under the pains and penalty of perjury.’’

But Lewis last summer refused to sign the documents, saying that the language left her open to being sued. Her refusal caused the state to freeze $103,000 of the authority’s operating reserve.

Though the Housing Authority had tried to work through the issue internally, problems persisted, and fellow members tried to remove Lewis from the board. A hearing was scheduled with selectmen, who decided to meet in executive session, or in private, to discuss the issue.

Although most government meetings are required to be in public, there are some exemptions, including meetings that discuss the discipline or dismissal of a public employee. Under this exemption, the board closed the meeting and asked reporters to leave the room.

Ledger reporters felt the circumstances did not warrant executive session privilege, but Rush’s ruling upheld the town’s position.

“The Board’s discussion surrounding Ms. Lewis’ proposed resignation was appropriate under executive session Purpose 1, as it related to the Board regarding the negotiated resolution to the complaint,” Rush wrote.

Because the case has been resolved, with Lewis resigning upon the town’s agreement to file certain legislation, selectmen should also release the minutes from both the Aug. 7 and Sept. 4 closed meetings, Rush said.

Regardless of the next steps, Scituate selectmen were relieved by the ruling.

“I do feel exonerated, and the whole board should,” said Selectman Richard Murray.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@­
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