Resident files open meeting law violation complaint against School Committee in superintendent early termination controversy

A Marblehead resident has filed an open meeting law violation complaint against the School Committee in the early termination controversy involving Superintendent John Buckey.

“I am concerned, as per the attached complaint, that the School Committee has committed an Open Meeting Law violation by failing to deliberate in public on the decision to consider exercising the termination for convenience clause in the current Superintendent’s employment agreement,” Cathyann Swindlehurst wrote in an email to the School Committee alerting them about the complaint, which was filed July 31.

“My concern is centered on the firestorm created in Marblehead with the surprise that the board had already begun a process to invoke the early termination clause in Dr. Buckey’s employment agreement,” Swindlehurst wrote. “I believe that if the discussion that led to the decision to launch an early-termination consideration process had happened in a public meeting, the current situation would have been avoided.”

In the complaint itself, Swindlehurst writes, “Between the end of the public meeting on 7/6/23 and the filing of the executive session agenda on 7/17/23, it is apparent that some members of the board made the decision to review the contract and its termination for convenience clause, leading to the Chair to call a meeting and file the executive-session for bargaining strategy agenda on 7/17. Given that the Chair appointed an Interim Superintendent apparently the board has terminated our existing Superintendent. We can’t know for sure — because all of this is happening in the dark and behind the scenes.”

Swindlehurst explained what prompted her to file the complaint.

“The School Committee has the clear right here to make whatever decision it wants. We elected them to make decisions, easy and hard. Elections have consequences. The thing is they don’t get to do that behind closed doors, they don’t get to do it in the shadows. They have to do it in public. The idea is that they educate us so we all move forward together.”

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told the Current, “I have forwarded the complaint to our counsel. Our legal counsel has reviewed and advised in drafting all agendas on this matter. She has also been present for the entirety of all three meetings from call to order to adjournment. Additionally, we have been in contact twice with the Secretary of State open meeting division when any questions arose and acted according to their recommendations. I have complete faith in the legal guidance of our counsel and the Secretary of State.”

School Commitee Chair Sarah Fox responded to the open meeting law violation complaint.

The “three meetings” Fox referred to are apparently the July 21 executive (private) session, July 27 open meeting adjourned after one minute, and the July 31 executive session.

Swindlehurst wants the School Committee to take a corrective action.

“The committee should hold an in-person public meeting to both explain (and publicly vote on) the decision to investigate exercising the contract’s termination-for-convenience option as well as to hear public comment on the matter,” she wrote in the complaint. “The meeting should be held at a time and location so as to maximize the opportunity for voters to attend and be heard.”

Buckey’s attorney Mike Long said he wasn’t aware of the open meeting law violation complaint and added, “As of 5 p.m. tonight, the situation has not changed.”

Fox declined to answer questions about what is expected to happen next with the superintendent’s contract. No further meetings are scheduled.

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