Hartwell

GORHAM — Town Councilor Ben Hartwell and Superintendent Heather Perry are at odds over the proper reporting of School Board subcommittee meetings.

At issue is the public’s right to know what happens at these meetings where school department business is conducted, Hartwell says.

Hartwell said he made a request this week to the School Department for information under the state’s Freedom of Access Act to confirm it is complying with state law regarding proper notification of the subcommittee meetings and the minutes from those meetings.

“I haven’t had any FOAA requests made to me or my office – at least not that I am aware of at this time,” Superintendent Heather Perry wrote in an email Tuesday responding to an American Journal inquiry.

Perry

Hartwell fired back at Perry with a response he provided to the American Journal.

“In what world are you living in that you think you did not receive a FOAA request? Yesterday I sent a FOAA request to (Town Manager) Ephrem (Paraschak) and he forwarded it to you. You acknowledged receipt by your response to him,” Hartwell wrote to Perry on Tuesday.

In a Monday email to Paraschak, Perry writes that FOAA requests should be made to a staff member. Hartwell said it is Perry’s responsibility to forward the request to the appropriate staff member.

The matter arose when Hartwell was curious about a School Board Financial Committee meeting.

Perry said Tuesday she’s not aware of any compliance problems.

“State law is being followed for proper posting of all required meetings,” she said.

All meetings are posted for the public on the calendar on the School Department website, she said.

“All subcommittee meeting agendas and minutes are also posted on our website,” she said.

Hartwell, in a Feb. 10 email to Paraschak, cited specific state statutes requiring public notice of school board subcommittee meetings and minutes of those meetings. He said he wanted to see the public notices and minutes for the last 12 months.

“These do not appear to be on their website,” Hartwell wrote.

State law requires a public record of public meetings that include the date, time and place and who attended, along with any motions made and who voted, he said.

“I do not see all of these requirements met, that is why I made the request,” Hartwell wrote in an email to Perry.

Perry said in an email to Hartwell Wednesday that the subcommittees serve to make recommendations to the full School Board. They do not make motions or take votes, she said, and that is why those actions are not reflected in the meeting notes.

“I did see a couple of notes on the agendas that look like they were possibly made during or after the meeting,” he said.

Hartwell cited some examples of what he found and didn’t see.

“For example, the agendas for Personnel Committee list members and others present. However, the agenda for Jan. 9, as an example, lists the names and says no meeting this month,” Hartwell said. “How can you say other people are present if there is no meeting?”

Hartwell said the Finance Committee meetings don’t show any names and said the public needs to know who attends meetings.

Motions need to be made, Hartwell said, and seconded before any discussion of items.

“Naturally, since there are no motions being made, there are also no votes being recorded. How are committees making decisions without taking votes,” he asked.

Perry said in a Feb. 10 email to Paraschak that subcommittee agendas and minutes are all posted on the school department website. “Although I am not aware of any statute that requires they be publicly posted since they are not full committee meetings – at least not Maine school statute.”

The School Department notifies the media of its regular and workshop meetings but doesn’t notify the media of sub-committee meetings.

“Statute does not require us to do either,” Perry said.

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