Responding to an allegation that they violated the state's Open Meeting Law, Scituate officials Tuesday asserted that they had done no wrong in voting in an 11 percent salary hike for the town administrator in executive session last year.
Scituate had requested an extension to file a response to the complaint, issued by the Scituate Mariner in early May, due to the fact that the document had to be voted in open session. Selectmen said they didn’t have an opportunity to do so within the specified time frame.
At Tuesday's selectmen's meeting, Scituate officials continued to assert that they had acted adequately in voting for an 11 percent salary increase - from $126,480 in fiscal 2011 to a $141,000 annual rate in the second half of fiscal 2012 – for Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi.
As part of the contract, selectmen additionally voted for additional increases to $143,820 in fiscal 2013, $147,416 in fiscal 2014, and $151,838 in fiscal 2015. Fiscal 2016 and 2017 will be negotiated at a later date.
In the response, Town Counsel James Toomey stated that the five-member selectmen board did not conduct any kind of formal review of Vinchesi when negotiations were ongoing, which would have been in violation of Open Meeting Law.
Rather, discussions about Vinchesi’s performance were done in light of her goals and accomplishments.
“The Attorney General has explained that ‘[when] the discussion of a professional competence is not in the context of an evaluation, but rather is discussed as a factor to be considered in a contract negotiation, it is appropriate for executive session,’” the response states.
Furthermore, rules about approving a town administrator contract were unclear at the time of negotiations, Scitiuate officials said.
According to officials, the town had discussed Vinchesi’s salary on Nov. 29, 2011, in executive session, and signed the five-year contract in an open meeting on Dec. 20, 2011.
A decision issued from the Attorney General regarding a similar matter in Carver was issued Dec. 27. However, the town did not discover the change until April 2.
“During 2011, the interpretation of Purpose 2 was in transition. Both Town Counsel and other municipal counsel with whom he has since consulted interpreted Purpose 2 to allow a vote on an employment contract in executive session,” the response says.
Because the town has vowed to comply with newly established open meeting law rules in the future, and also promises to make it more clear in the agenda what type of negotiations will occur in executive session, officials feel the matter doesn’t require further investigation.
Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the response.
The response will be returned to the Scituate Mariner this week. At that time, the Mariner can bring up a further complaint with the attorney general or drop the topic.