Court: Open Meeting Law may apply to JPNC

June 7, 2013
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A court recently shot down the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) controversial claim in a lawsuit that it is a “municipal board” of the City of Boston empowered to sue over a zoning decision. But in the same decision, the court speculated without ruling that the state Open Meeting Law may still apply to the JPNC—something the council has denied.

The Open Meeting Law, which applies to government-created boards and committees, mandates standards for advance notice of meetings and accessibility of meeting minutes that the JPNC does not appear to be sticking to. The court noted that other, pending lawsuits against the Charlestown Neighborhood Council are addressing the question of whether the Open Meeting Law applies to such groups.

The JPNC was questioned about its Open Meeting Law status in 2011 by local activist Rick Stockwood. In response, the JPNC issued a report concluding that it is an unofficial neighborhood association that is not subject to the Open Meeting Law. Stockwood previously told the Gazette that the state Attorney General’s Office confirmed this conclusion to him.

In filing its lawsuit late last year, the JPNC claimed that it is a municipal board after all, at least in terms of having zoning review powers that give it the ability to sue over zoning decisions. At the same time, the JPNC claimed that it is not a government board in the sense of the Open Meeting Law applying to it.

Suffolk Superior Court Justice Linda Giles, in her May 16 opinion dismissing the lawsuit, indicated that the JPNC may have it backward. She ruled that the JPNC definitely does not have the ability to sue over zoning decisions as a matter of course, but that the Open Meeting Law might well apply to it.

Giles noted that while the JPNC needs to be a specific kind of “municipal board” to file a lawsuit, the Open Meeting Law applies broadly to “public bodies.”

“A determination of whether the JPNC is a public body is a far cry from a determination of whether it is a municipal board,” she wrote.

She notes that the Open Meeting Law’s definition of a public body could apply to the JPNC: a multi-member board “established [by government] to serve a public purpose.”

Various neighborhood councils around the city were created by former Mayor Raymond Flynn in the 1980s.

Giles left the question open because it was not necessary for her to rule on the council’s Open Meeting Law status, and because of the pending Charlestown lawsuits.

As the Gazette previously reported, the Charlestown plaintiffs earlier this year unsuccessfully attempted to merge their lawsuits with that of the JPNC. The Charlestown lawsuits are slated to be heard by a court later this year. Kevin Joyce, the attorney for the Charlestown plaintiffs, was not immediately available for comment.

To view a copy of the Justice Giles’s decision, see scribd.com/jpgazette.

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