The South Portland City Council routinely holds private sessions that defeat the public’s right to know. This practice violates Maine law.

On March 20, the City Council again voted illegally to close the meeting to discuss short-term rentals with the city’s attorney, Sally Daggett. Public comment was not permitted on going into executive session; I was ruled out of order even to advise the council that it was violating the Freedom of Access Act.

Discussion among the councilors revealed that no one knew why the council needed to go into executive session. Daggett stated that her presence had been requested but she did not know why, and she did not reveal who had asked her to attend. Nevertheless, she repeatedly claimed that the council can always talk with her privately.

This advice was contrary to declarations by Maine courts, e.g., the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Underwood v. City of Presque Isle: “We … remind public boards and agencies of the Legislature’s declaration in the Freedom of Access Act that ‘their deliberations be conducted openly,’ and that the Act ‘be liberally construed … to promote its underlying purposes.’ 1 M.R.S.A. § 401 … The mere presence of an attorney cannot be used to circumvent the FAA’s open meeting requirement.”

City councilors will continue to close meetings on the excuse that their attorney is present until their constituents tell them that they want the council to obey the law. A supermajority of the council is required to close a meeting to the public. It is time for individual members to follow the law rather than their corporation counsel when she is providing misleading information.

Tell your councilor to vote “no” when called upon to shut out the public without good reason. It is time to end this anti-democratic and illegal practice.

David Lourie

Cape Elizabeth