Editorial: Neighborhood, or government, councils?

March 15, 2013
By

The moral support provided to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s controversial lawsuit by former Mayor Ray Flynn, the man who created the neighborhood councils, is striking. But it also shows the double-edged sword that the court case may become.

Flynn supports the JPNC’s right to sue the City if it seems to be “ignored.” He also supports the principle of neighborhood councils adhering to the state Open Meeting Law—something that Charlestown residents, in another lawsuit, allege their council did not.

The JPNC is claiming to be a government body in the sense that it is able to file a lawsuit, but not a government body in the sense of the Open Meeting Law applying to it. Indeed, the JPNC meeting at which it voted to approve the lawsuit probably did not meet the Open Meeting Law’s requirements. Meanwhile, the Charlestown plaintiffs are attempting to merge their lawsuit, including its Open Meeting Law argument, with that of the JPNC.

However the case turns out, it surely will shed light on the murky nature of the neighborhood council system. Whether the JPNC and other councils will like the result is a different question.

Whether residents will like it is another question, too. Will we end up with a neighborhood council or a government council? Or both?

The JPNC is rarely accused of being too close to the City, and its entire argument here is about its right to shoot down a government decision. But JP residents can rightfully feel nervous about a JPNC that can sue people today or perhaps get into sticky closeness with the City down the road.

If the JPNC prevails in its claim to be a government body, it may unwittingly be making a powerful argument for the neighborhood to disband it and start over from scratch.