Monday, July 19, 2010

Conflict of Interest?

The webmaster (that’s me) was charged last month in a series of emails from Rob Aseltine as having a serious conflict of interest by being the town webmaster and posting of personal opinion here on the Longmeadow Buzz blog. Mr. Aseltine’s contention was that these personal opinions affected what I was willing to post with regard to the high school building project on the town website.

During last week’s Select Board meeting (7/12/10), Mr. Barkett cited visible links to the LongmeadowBuzz blog on the town website as both “confusing to the public” and “unvetted opinion”. For Mr. Barkett’s edification there are also very prominent links on the town website to LCTV…. and anyone who decides to follow them will be quickly led to the LCTV's program videos of “Put Up Your Duqs” (PUYD) by Jerold Duquette- the content of which certainly meets the same criteria. Should we also remove the LCTV link from the town website?

This past week Mr. Aseltine demanded that all links to the LongmeadowBuzz blog be removed from as soon as possible and they were removed without objection. Interestingly enough, the LongmeadowBuzz blog has been in existence for over 2½ years and this is first time that any directive about the links has been given by the Select Board.

In support of Mr. Aseltine’s “conflict of interest” assertion, Christine Swanson- co-chair of the SBC outlined one “example” during last week’s SB discussion that involved a delay in posting event information relating to a planned School Building Committee tour of Longmeadow HS.

From my webmaster email records, here is the timeline...

1. SBC request by Ms. Swanson- Thursday night, May 13 at 10:58 PM
2. Second request asking why the announcement had not yet been posted- Saturday night at 6:05 PM
3. Email response by webmaster on Sunday night at 9:33 PM indicating that he was out of town at a family wedding starting Thursday morning and would post the announcement Monday morning.
4. Announcement was posted on the homepage, the SBC website and the Town Calendar on Monday morning at 10 AM for maximum visibility.

Perhaps, better planning by the SBC and Ms. Swanson would have provided greater lead time for publicizing this event. Even if the town website was “professionally managed” as is being suggested, it is not likely that Ms. Swanson would have received a quicker response. This is a pretty weak example of a significant “conflict of interest”.

As far as I am aware there have been no incidents which will show that I censored, filtered or refused to post any school building project related documents on the SBC or town websites. In one example refuting this accusation, I worked very diligently trying to obtain SBC meeting minutes so that they could be posted on the SBC website in a timely manner to keep town residents updated about this important project. However, in many cases, there were delays of up to 3 months before SBC meeting minutes were sent to me for posting despite my numerous requests for them.

All information "above and beyond" what was expected was posted on the School Building Committee website in a timely fashion. My personal opinions expressed here on the Buzz did not influence this effort.

As I have mentioned in prior posts, it was the posting of the November 2009 MSBA/ SBC correspondence on the Buzz (Now is the time!) that caused this latest town website controversy. In a Springfield-Channel 3 interview on June 3, 2010,  Jahn Hart, Superintendent of Schools stated that these letters had been public information since November when they were received. If that were the case, why did it take an appeal by Roger Wojcik and his group to the Massachusetts Attorney General under the Freedom of Information Act before these letters were released to the public?  There was virtually no mention of the content of these letters in published meeting minutes.  I believe that the content of these letters state volumes as to the reasons why the letters were withheld from the general public. “That is my personal opinion”.

The new Massachusetts Open Meeting Law that started July 1, 2010 imposes significantly more documentation requirements on town committees and boards including civil penalties and fines up to $1000 for each intentional violation. Perhaps, if this law had been in effect last November, these MSBA/SBC letters would have been required to be public record and easily accessible at the Town Clerk's office in the Longmeadow Town Hall.

A final point… with the Select Board now actively considering action to revamp management of the town website (primarily, in response to my LongmeadowBuzz activity) I believe that two Select Board members (Barkett and Swanson) should abstain from voting on any decision because of the obvious conflict of interest on their part- they are the School Building Committee co-chairs involved with this incident.