Complaints sent to AG’s office after requests bring back blacked-out documents

Complaints sent to AG’s office after requests bring back blacked-out documents

SCITUATE – At least two complaints have been filed with the Office of the Attorney General following the last-minute emergency Town Council meeting of July 19 where the council intended to put the police chief on administrative leave.

Both complaints, dated Monday, Aug. 5, state that the Town Council violated the Access to Public Records Act by providing documents that were heavily redacted and missing pertinent information.

Town Councilor Abbie Groves sent a letter to Chief Donald Delaere placing him on administrative leave the day after the July 19 meeting was canceled.

Groves said it was in the interest of Delaere’s health, safety and welfare that he be placed on paid administrative leave immediately.

In a letter to the town solicitor, Delaere alleges that Town Council President James Brady defamed the chief’s character and created a hostile work environment.

Resident and Scituate Democrat Michael Marcello filed his APRA complaint due to what he calls “serious and systematic violations” of the Access to Public Records Act.

“So much for transparency,” Marcello said of the current council, whose campaign relied on transparency in government.

“With only six months in office, they called an emergency meeting for a Saturday and then canceled it, have given conflicting statements on the timing of the alleged suspension of the chief of police, and now refuse to provide documents related to the suspension,” Marcello said.

Marcello said he requested multiple documents, including:

• All communications between the town clerk and council regarding the scheduling of the emergency meeting;
• All communication between the council and police chief including inquiry or requests for police detail scheduling or shift details;
• The chief’s contract of employment;
• The document announcing the chief’s placement on administrative leave;
• All communication on the interference by any town official;
• And any response regarding the letter for administrative leave.

In a partial response to his APRA request, Marcello received 20 pages of documents, including one completely blacked-out with redactions.

According to the response, for an additional fee of $150, the town would continue to search through the “voluminous amount of record sought. It included an estimate of 10 hours of research, and stated there would be a 20-day extension on the full response beyond the 10 business days provided by law.

In his complaint, Marcello said many of the emails provided were heavily redacted, while the Groves letter informing the chief of his administrative leave lacks information regarding the time and manner it was sent.

“This information is critical since there appears to be some discrepancy between the public record and public statement as to the date on when the chief was placed on administrative leave. The emails should be produced in unredacted form,” the complaint reads.

Marcello, an attorney, said the town violated the APRA by providing a fully redacted email from the chief to the town solicitor. He said the town should have stated that “no portion of the document or record contains reasonably segregable information that is releasable.”

Resident Richard Finnegan filed a similar complaint regarding the email Delaere sent to the town solicitor on Brady’s alleged actions. Finnegan said that the chief publicly stated the nature of his email and his reasons for leaving.

Since the subject matter was disclosed publicly, he said the letter would not be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and should be released.

“The Attorney (General’s) Office will be watching Scituate closely if they keep getting complaints,” Finnegan said.

The Valley Breeze & Observer put in a request at Town Hall for the document from Groves related to putting Delaere on administrative leave, and received a heavily redacted letter in response that was missing key details.

The Town Council received an unfavorable decision from Attorney Gen. Peter Neronha in June for violating the Open Meetings Act. The violation occurred last September when the former council voted to freeze Land Trust and Conservation Commission funds.

Neronha said the council did not specify the freezing of accounts on the meeting’s agenda, and therefore violated the OMA by voting on the item without providing proper notice.