NORTH YARMOUTH — Sharp disagreement over a failed attempt to hold an impromptu closed-door meeting led to Paul Napolitano’s resignation last week as chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
The dispute flared April 3, during discussion of a communications subcommittee’s release of a public opinion survey seeking reaction to a proposal to close North Yarmouth Memorial School.
The selectmen’s meeting came a day after the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors heard public input on the school closing recommendation.
At the April 3 meeting, Selectman Darla Hamlin said she and other members of the subcommittee had encouraged people to share their opinions about the recommendation via the online survey.
Napolitano was upset because the full Board of Selectmen had not authorized the survey.
“It takes three selectmen, at a meeting, to send anything forward,” he later said. “That was never brought to a meeting … it was never voted upon by the Board of Selectmen.”
Napolitano moved to take the April 3 meeting into executive session on the grounds it could be discussed privately as a personnel issue.
He later said that because the matter involved the actions of selectmen, and since selectmen receive stipends and are covered by workers’ compensation insurance at their meetings, they are therefore town employees, which would justify the executive session.
He also said he did not want to embarrass any selectmen by discussing the matter publicly.
Hamlin said last week that she considers herself an elected official, not a town employee.
Sigmund Schutz, an attorney at Preti Flaherty and director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said Tuesday that state law allows private discussion of certain subjects involving public officials, employees and appointees.
But, he said, “I don’t think talking about a survey is a basis for an executive session,” pointing out that employment, promotion, compensation, evaluation, discipline, or resignation or dismissal are some of the matters that can be discussed in such meetings, and only to the extent that public discussion would damage someone’s reputation or be an invasion of their privacy.
Schutz added that “talking about whether they prematurely issued the survey or should have asked the full group for permission to launch the survey, that just doesn’t sound like a proper subject matter for an executive session. (Such sessions are) supposed to address sensitive personnel issues.”
Selectman Andrew Walsh seconded Napolitano’s motion. It was ultimately defeated 3-2, with Vice Chairman Steven Palmer, Selectman Robert Wood, who also sits on the communications subcommittee, and Hamlin in the majority.
“I took that as a no-confidence vote from the other three members … and I resigned and turned the chairmanship over to the vice chairman,” Napolitano later said. “… I will finish my term out.”
Napolitano’s term expires this year, and he has submitted nomination papers to run again. But as of Monday he said he was undecided about whether he will withdraw from the election.
Hamlin said last week that the SAD 51 board had recently met with the selectmen to discuss the task force’s recommendation. She noted that at that meeting she pointed out that the task force had spent several months reviewing the financial side of the subject, and that she advocated a survey to gauge public opinion on the social and economic impact to North Yarmouth, if the School Board votes to close the school.
“I developed a very simple survey that asked open-ended questions,” and brought it before the subcommittee, Hamlin said.
“I could have done this, and just sent something out to … people I knew … and said, ‘would you tell me what you think?,'” she explained. “But I took a team approach, I thought, my intentions were honorable. But before I put anything out, I went to the subcommittee, and the question was asked, ‘do we need to take this before the board?'”
The subcommittee opted to release the survey before going before the full Board of Selectmen, Hamlin said, because the School Board could vote on the task force’s recommendation next month.
Hamlin said Napolitano “felt left out of the process, but that was not the intent.”
“Every single board meeting, since all of this has come up, there has been one board member or another who has made a plea to the public to please tell us how you think,” Hamlin said. “I simply provided them with another mechanism in which to do that very thing.”
In hindsight, she said, she likely would have taken the survey to the full board before releasing it.
“No harm would have been done,” Hamlin said. “We wouldn’t be going here now if I had done that, I don’t think.”
Palmer noted that “there is a process that should be followed, and I would say that Paul certainly has a justifiable issue and concern.”
But he also said “I feel that if we are going to be going into any type of meeting, whether it be public or whether it be in executive session, that it’s nice to know what the agenda is. And at that particular point in time I had no idea what the agenda was.”
Schutz said state law is not clear on how detailed an agenda a group such as the Board of Selectmen must have in advance of its meeting.
“All that is required is public notice of the proceeding,” he said, adding that he did not know whether the board is legally required to give advance notice of the exact topic of the proceeding.
But “it’s certainly better practice to provide notice, unless … there’s an emergency or something else comes up at the proceeding that necessitates action,” Schutz said.
Palmer said it will be up to the Board of Selectmen to decide whether he should replace Napolitano as chairman.
NORTH YARMOUTH — The discussion at the end of the Board of Selectmen’s April 3 meeting, which resulted in the resignation of Chairman Paul Napolitano, centered on a poll (available online and at a few locations in town) developed by Selectman Darla Hamlin, who serves on the board’s communications subcommittee. It asks:
• What people think of recommendations made by the North Yarmouth Memorial School Task Force, which advocates closing the school moving its students to an expanded Greely Middle School.
• How people think the recommendations could affect the community.
• And if closing the school will affect local businesses and, if so, how.
“It’s just another means for people to say what they think about this whole process,” Hamlin said last week. “… If I’m being asked to step up to a table, and discuss (the proposed school closure) with the School Board … I cannot go there with my personal opinion. I have to get feedback.”
— Alex Lear