By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Neighborhood News filed an Open Meeting Law (OML) complaint against the Fairhaven Board of Public works on 3/31/23.
The Neighb News got tipped off that the board had discussed an item in executive session that should have been addressed in open session at its 3/13/23 meeting. The item was a report by Tighe and Bond with proposals for the replacement of the Goulart Memorial Bridge.
According to Mass. General Law, after a complaint is filed, the board is supposed to disseminate the complaint to all members of the board; meet to review the complaint within 14 business days; respond to the complainant in writing with whatever actions they have taken to address the complaint; and send the Attorney General a copy of the response.
At its meeting on 4/10, the BPW listed “Causeway Road Bridge” as an item, but did not specify that it was an OML complaint. The bridge, also known as the causeway, is at the end of Goulart Memorial Drive. At the point where Goulart reaches the causeway/bridge, the road name changes to Causeway Road, and continues to West Island.
Superintendent of Public Works Vinnie Furtado began the discussion, explaining that the board convened in executive session to discuss possible litigation for repairs to the water main on the north side of the bridge. He said that when they were in executive session, it was with the same engineer who was working on the bridge replacement options. Mr. Furtado said the engineer brought up the subject of the bridge replacement in executive session and that is why the discussion took place then, along with a printed copy of the proposal.
At the 4/10 meeting Mr. Furtado explained briefly what the presentation was about, with the different options for repairing and replacing the bridge, calling it a “sneak preview” that the engineer presented.
The presentation was placed on the screen for remote viewers to see.
BPW Chairperson Brian Wotton said it was not that they did not want to show the presentation. He said nothing was “etched in stone.”
Both Mr. Furtado and Mr. Wotton said they had not intended to discuss the bridge replacement project at the 3/13 meeting.
Mr. Furtado also said the project will be in front of the Select Board in a couple of months, and he stressed that the presentation was a preliminary one and may change before it gets to the SB.
He also said there are many steps before and after this point. The project started at least three years ago, with funding approved, obviously, to pay Tighe & Bond for the report. He said the project was presented to the West Island Improvement Association, noting that as an example that the board was not trying to keep it a secret.
Mr. Wotton said the project was at least 10 years out.
“Truth be told, it should not have been in executive session,” said Mr. Furtado, but again stressed it was not anything they wanted to hide.
Neighb News editor Beth David joined the meeting by Zoom and stressed that the board not only discussed the issue in executive session, but also routinely does not note on its agenda what executive session items are about. It is still unclear what case the board was talking about in executive session with Tighe & Bond because the board never identified the case by name.
Ms. David also took issue with them “pooh poohing” the violation.
Mr. Wotton said that in 12 years he had never had an OML complaint so they did not know the steps on what to do.
He said they had no idea the engineer would bring up the issue.
“They sprung it on us,” said Mr. Wotton.
He said he hoped they had addressed the issue and appreciated the newspaper keeping them “in check.” He also said Ms. David should reach out to him directly when there is an issue.
To see the complaint, see below, or to the archives, 2023 and then to the 4/20/23 issue.
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