Jul 25, 2014

Facebook Comment Starts Heated Debate in Mansfield

Selectmen and School Committee debate open meeting and executive session.

Facebook Comment Starts Heated Debate in Mansfield

Mansfield School Committee members expressed their concerns Wednesday to the board of selectmen regarding a comment selectmen chair Olivier Kozlowski stated on Facebook.

“There is so much content that every little thing happens it can be perceived in a much different way than it was stated,” he said.

The statement was in regard to events at a recent budget sub committee meeting.

School committee chair Michael Trowbridge said that the main complaint was that the comment discussed their committee outside of the public forum (yet still in the public discourse) that could affect current union negotiations for the next budget year. These negotiations affect salaries for school staff across the board, and school superintendent Brenda Hodges said that, with the exception of one union, they are negotiating new terms will all others.

“You’ve done a lot of damage to our negotiation process and I asked the board to consider this is a problem,” said committee member Lisa Losiewicz. “We need to sit on a finance committee with you and not be able to trust your judgment.”

While the committee agreed that the comment in and of itself was innocuous and not out of step with open meeting laws such incidents could inhibit frank and honest discussion on the budget and slow the budget process to rekindle the chaotic nature of events leading to the spring town meeting

Kozlowski said that he felt that any discourse of public nature should be encouraged if it helps people get interested in town government.

“I had said the more people that knew what you guys are going through the more you have the public on your side at the end of the day,” he said. “Trying to influence people’s opinions? At the end of the day I see that as trying to help.”

Kozlowski added that this discretion could be an infraction of open meeting law

Selectman Kevin Moran sympathized with both sides, saying that while any harm done was not intentional, but in negotiations even an imagined slight can have consequences.

“I just never like to put things out there,” he said. “We have a job to do and while I believe what [Kozlowski] is saying but it’s their perception that matters… what happened last spring, it’s very unpleasant to sit there for a week to be called a liar. For the greater good, you just have to work with people… The truth of the matter is if there’s not a level of trust we’re going to be back where we were last spring.”

All eventually agreed that in matters that could in some way affect union negotiations (either on the town or school side) would be discussed in executive session so that open meeting laws would not be compromised.

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