Attorney General: Nantucket Affordable Housing Trust Violated Open Meeting Law

Jason Graziadei •

The Nantucket Affordable Housing Trust violated the state open meeting law last year when it convened in a closed-door executive session to discuss the controversial Surfside Crossing development, the Massachusetts Attorney General's office ruled late last week.

In question was the Trust's April 7, 2023 executive session meeting in which former Nantucket housing director Tucker Holland informed the members of the Trust that he would be recommending that the town drop its legal challenge of the state Housing Appeals Committee's decision to approve the Surfside Crossing project. During the meeting, the Trust ultimately voted unanimously to support Holland's recommendation to dismiss the appeal.

In its meeting notice, the Affordable Housing Trust stated that it was convening behind closed doors under Purpose 6 which allows for public bodies to meet privately to "consider the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property where an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the public body.” But the state Attorney General's office ruled last week that the Trust had violated the open meeting law by having those discussions in executive session rather than in a meeting open to the public.

"We find that the Trust violated the Open Meeting Law by having such discussions in executive session," wrote Kerry Anne Kilcoyne, the Assistant Attorney General
with the Division of Open Government. "We remind the Trust that the proper application of Purpose 6 is to protect a public body’s negotiating position vis-à-vis other parties to a transaction and not to escape the inconvenience of public scrutiny or opposition."

Since the Trust has subsequently released the minutes of the meeting and due to the fact that it was the Select Board and not the Trust that authorized dismissing the appeal, the Attorney General's office ordered no further remedial action.

The complaint was originally filed by Meghan Perry, a vocal critic of the Surfside Crossing project and a board member of Nantucket Tipping Point, a non-profit group that has opposed the development at every turn.

"While we understand that the Trust has the authority to impose housing restrictions on the property being developed by Surfside, the discussions during the April 7, 2023, meeting did not relate to the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of the property," Kilcoyne wrote in her decision. "Rather, the executive session minutes make clear that the discussion related to the decision by the Town to dismiss the appeal filed by the Zoning Board of the Housing Appeals Committee’s decision regarding the comprehensive permit for Surfside’s housing project."

The Attorney General's office also found that the Trust had failed to approve and release the minutes from the meeting in a timely manner.

Read the Attorney General's full decision by clicking here

"Given how much money the AHTF (Affordable Housing Trust) has asked voters for and the crossover of the makeup of boards and staff it’s kind of a big deal," Perry said of the Attorney General's decision.

"Town processes are challenging and hard work," said Affordable Housing Trust chair Brian Sullivan. "We will endeavor to maintain Robert's Rules and the details are important. I think it's as simple as that."

It was the second open meeting law complaint filed by Perry that has been validated by the Attorney General's office and follows the recent decision that the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission had also violated the open meeting law

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