The Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission is facing an Open Meeting Law complaint from island resident and Nantucket Tipping Point member Meghan Perry over its recent decision to hire Leslie Snell, the current deputy director of planning, to succeed Andrew Vorce as Nantucket’s planning director.
Vorce announced his resignation at an NP&EDC meeting on May 22, and Snell was immediately appointed his successor at the same meeting. The NP&EDC voted unanimously to ratify her contract, which was already negotiated during a prior executive session—a session Perry alleges was not in compliance with the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
The state Open Meeting Law requires that if a public body like the NP&EDC wishes to hold an executive session, the chair must announce during an open session all reasons for the executive session that can be revealed without compromising it. One purpose for an executive session, the one used by the NP&EDC during the negotiations over Snell’s contract, is to “conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel or to conduct collective bargaining sessions or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel.” Perry alleges that the specific non-union personnel in question must be identified prior to the executive session.
“Public bodies should identify, both in their notice and in the open session announcement, the name of the specific non-union personnel that is the subject of discussion…unless disclosure would compromise the public body's negotiating position,” her complaint reads in part. “The NP&EDC violated Open Meeting Law when it did not name the specific non-union personnel who were the subject of the negotiations; when it did not disclose discussion of Andrew Vorce's retirement; and finally, when it did not disclose the decision whether or not to publicly post and conduct a national competitive search for Mr. Vorce's replacement.”
NP&EDC Chair Mary Longacre declined to comment.
Perry’s complaint, filed with the state attorney general’s office, argues the NP&EDC should have conducted a more extensive search for Vorce’s replacement.
“The decision to hide the discussions was intentional to avoid public outcry demanding a national search for Mr. Vorce's replacement,” she says in her complaint. “The violation is made more egregious coming after the positive vote at Nantucket’s 2023 Annual Town Meeting to request the State reform the membership of the NP&EDC.”
At Town Meeting, voters approved Article 83, a citizen petition to reconfigure the structure of the NP&EDC, by a single vote. The petition, which would make some members of the NP&EDC elected instead of appointed, still needs approval from the state legislature to take effect, a process that has been known to take years—or never happen at all. In the meantime, Perry wants the NP&EDC to reconsider hiring Snell.
“Because the [NP&EDC] convened in violation of Open Meeting Law when it discussed hiring Ms. Snell in a non-competitive process, and the public did not have the opportunity to present information related to the search for Nantucket's new Planning Director, the new contract with Ms. Snell should be annulled,” she says in her complaint. “The [NP&EDC] should convene in Open Session to discuss the search for Mr. Vorce’s replacement. Public Comment during the discussion should be welcomed.”
Even if attorney general Andrea Campbell sides with Perry, it’s unclear what the long-term effects of the complaint would be: there would be nothing stopping the NP&EDC from simply going through the mandated search process and hiring Snell again.