Minuteman School Committee member David Manjarrez slammed the board’s recent vote to renew the superintendent’s contract, taking the unusual step of leaving his committee seat and speaking as a citizen at a meeting Tuesday night.
“It is a flawed vote,” said Manjarrez, who has been a vocal critic of the Lexington-based vocational high school’s administration and has filed numerous Open Meeting Law complaints against the board.
The School Committee voted to award Superintendent Edward Bouquillon a one-year contract on June 18, two months after the release of an audit that found he had violated state procurement rules, and may have attempted to circumvent the law by splitting bids on certain contracts.
Manjarrez said the contract renewal required a supermajority, not a simple majority, vote to be approved, as hiring or firing the superintendent does. He also cited complaints he has filed alleging Open Meeting Law violations by the board, and accused members of having “a frivolous attitude toward the law.”
Board vice chairman Jeffrey Stulin defended the June 18 vote, saying it was in line with School Committee policy.
“We had legal counsel at the meeting, and the legal counsel said the way we were proceeding was appropriate,” said Stulin. “I believe it was not a flawed vote.”
Eight members voted to approve the superintendent’s new contract, four voted against, and one abstained. Manjarrez, Sudbury’s representative to the board, was out of state at the time of the vote.
Stulin, who represents Needham, said the board respects the law, and questioned whether hunting for trivial, technical violations is a good use of anyone’s time.
Lincoln representative Kemon Taschioglou said he found the tone and manner of Manjarrez’s opening remarks inappropriate and disrespectful to the committee, as well as “personally insulting.”
The Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School, on Marrett Road in Lexington, draws its 650 students from 16 member communities — Acton, Arlington, Belmont, Bolton, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston — as well as other area districts, including Boston, under school choice. The Minuteman School Committee has representatives from each of its member towns.
Carlisle representative Donald Rober, who voted against renewing the superintendent’s contract, said he understands why Manjarrez was asking about whether a supermajority was required — he had asked the same question before the vote last month. But the committee’s policies, he said, only require a simple majority to renew a contract.
“I agree with the question,” said Rober. “Just, the policy isn’t written that way.”
Belmont representative Jack Weis, who also voted “no,” said he, too, believes the vote to be valid.
Manjarrez said in an interview that allowing a simple majority to make the decision “puts power in too few hands.” In addition, he said, the Open Meeting Law violations he has alleged keep secret information that should be shared with the public.
Stulin likened the alleged infractions to being caught driving one mile per hour over the speed limit.
“In the complexity of what a school committee does, there are infinite opportunities to technically violate the Open Meeting Law and one has to have a distinction between a technical violation and a deliberate violation,” he said. “I don’t want to go through each complaint and analyze it. All I’m saying is that like many things in the world, there’s a spirit of the law and the letter of the law.”
The state’s Open Meeting Law requires that most meetings and deliberations of governmental bodies be held in public, with some exceptions to protect privacy or negotiation strategy, which may be discussed in closed session.
Manjarrez has filed seven Open Meeting Law violation complaints with the School Committee, chairwoman Alice DeLuca said during Tuesday’s meeting. Complaints that are not resolved at the local level can be taken to the attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s office has on record one closed complaint from last year, and three complaints under review.
In last year’s resolved complaint, which was filed by Manjarrez, the attorney general’s office found that DeLuca had violated the Open Meeting Law by “engaging in deliberation by e-mail,” although it noted that Manjarrez also improperly deliberated by e-mail in responding to DeLuca.
DeLuca, who represents Stow, could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, the committee discussed a complaint Manjarrez made about an e-mail that Arlington committee member Laura Morrissette sent to other members June 12 that included her opinion: “At this point in time I believe that Dr. Bouquillon is still the best choice for Superintendent of Minuteman.”
Manjarrez said that the reference to the board’s pending contract vote constituted deliberation, and was therefore a violation of the law, since it involved correspondence with a quorum of members but outside of the public’s view.
In a response letter discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, DeLuca said that the e-mail in question was a forwarded copy of correspondence that Morrissette received from a resident of her town, as well as a copy of her own response to that individual. No committee members responded directly, she said, and Morrissette did not realize the e-mail would be considered an Open Meeting Law violation.
The letter was entered into the public record at the June 18 meeting, said DeLuca, which “cured any violation of the Open Meeting Law by the committee.”
Morrissette declined to comment on the issue.
Manjarrez said he was pleased the committee discussed the complaint in open session, but he was not satisfied with the response.
“It should have been a simple admission that the law’s been violated and it should not be violated again,” he said.
Manjarrez has also filed a complaint accusing the committee of wrongly withholding the minutes from executive sessions during which he says they discussed contract negotiations with the superintendent and complaints about Bouquillon.
The committee has decided not to release the minutes Manjarrez requested. In an e-mail, DeLuca said they remained exempt from disclosure, but the committee was reviewing its past minutes.