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Surface Water Quality Members Say They May Resign Over OML Complaint

A recent complaint against Wayland's Surface Water Quality Committee has some members saying they will resign if the complaint isn't withdrawn or dismissed.

Wayland's Surface Water Quality Committee is facing an Open Meeting Law complaint, and several of its members have openly expressed their displeasure.

Over the weekend, SWQC member Mike Lowery posted on the SWQC Facebook page and his personal Facebook page the text of George Harris' complaint against the committee.

"It is truly disheartening to have given hundreds and hundreds of hours of personal time to keeping Wayland lakes and ponds free of invasive weed - only to be threatened [by] George Harris with legal proceedings regarding the specificity of the SWQC agenda and legal details of how to remotely participate," Lowery said on his personal page.

"If this complaint is not withdrawn by Mr. Harris or dismissed by the MA Attorney General's office, I will resign my position on WSWQC."

According to Harris' complaint, the SWQC's Sept. 5 meeting agenda failed to provide "sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public on issues to be discussed."

Harris also alleges that the committee "failed to follow the requirements of remote participation," in that the meeting minutes neither record who chaired the meeting in the physical absence of both co-chairs nor do they record a reason for co-chair Toni Moore's remote participation. Additionally, a roll call vote was not utilized.

On both the SWQC Facebook page and Lowery's personal page, committee member Lin Bradford also said he would resign if the complaint wasn't withdrawn by Harris or dismissed by the attorney general.

Harris said he considers the concerns raised in his complaint to be minor and easily fixed and he doesn't understand why Bradford and Lowery have stated their intention to resign if the complaint goes forward or isn't dismissed by the AG.

Harris explained in the complaint and in a conversation with Patch that agendas for SWQC meetings prior to July 11 were "substantially fine"; however, beginning with the July 25 meeting, the agendas changed in their level of specificity. Harris pointed out that he was satisfied with the agenda published for the committee's Oct. 11 meeting.

"This seems to me like a tempest in the teapot," Harris said. "Just go back and do it like you have in the past."

In his complaint, Harris asks that the committee rectify the situation by 1) acknowledging its errors at a meeting and in the minutes; 2) correcting the minutes from the Sept. 5 meeting to include a reason for Morris' remote participation and to indicate who acted as chair; 3) pledging to comply with the OML in the future, particularly as related to remote participation and agenda specificity.

Harris has not yet submitted his complaint to the Attorney General's Office and said he will forgo doing so if the committee agrees to his stipulations. If not, he will submit the complaint and the AG will be asked to weigh in on the allegations.

"I want to see all the boards comply with the Open Meeting Law because that’s the law and because the law was established in the '50s to counteract what was perceived to be secrecy in the decision making function of government in Massachusetts," Harris said. "All of this … it’s all tied together. If one board doesn’t do this right, the other boards don’t do it right."

In an email to SWQC chairmen, Lowery apologized for an outburst at Harris during the Oct. 11 meeting. He also emailed Harris to apologize. In his email to the chairmen, dated Oct. 14, Lowery reiterated his intention to resign if the complaint was not withdrawn or dismissed, saying that he refused to "accept that there was anything wrong with the specificity of our agenda."

Lowery went on to say that "all [the SWQC] does is control invasive weeds in town water bodies - the listing of the water bodies is sufficient for the town to know that we are discussing the status of our invasive control programs and the health of the listed water bodies."

Lowery did point out that the committee could choose to "put more meaty descriptions" in the agendas and can correct technical errors having to do with remote participation.

"I [am] unwilling to donate the hundreds of hours each year that it takes to successfully keep our water bodies clean in an environment when one town citizen is willing to haul out the big OML gun and bully a minor town committee for offenses even he would agree are minor," Lowery's email continued.

Co-chair Bob Goldsmith has been tasked with working with Town Counsel Mark Lanza to draft a response to Harris' complaint.

"We just want to resolve this as quickly and easily as possible so we can move on and care for the town’s ponds," Goldsmith said.

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