WEST NEWBURY — Two of the three selectmen may have inadvertently participated in a meeting Monday held in violation of state law.
Prior to a town hall session in the Pentucket Regional Middle School auditorium, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, gathered with municipal leaders from Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury in a room down the hall from the auditorium.
According to a legal posting of the meeting that was hanging on the meeting board at the 1910 Town Office Building in West Newbury and appears on the town website, the only agenda item for the meeting was to “participate in a regional forum with Congressman Seth Moulton.”
But when a reporter arrived to cover the session, the door was closed and she was not allowed to enter the room. A representative from Moulton’s office came into the hallway and said the meeting was solely for town leadership and not open to the public or press.
The reporter was encouraged to instead attend Moulton’s planned town hall session later in the evening. When the reporter said she was there to cover local selectmen and noted that the meeting had been posted and a quorum of some elected municipal boards were seen participating inside, Moulton’s aide repeated that it was a closed meeting.
The aide was later identified by West Newbury Selectmen David Archibald and Rick Parker as Kelly Bovio, regional director for Moulton.
Archibald and Parker briefly recapped their meeting with Moulton at an open session held at the Town Office Building later in the evening.
Archibald described it as “a good discussion” during which leaders from the tri-town area asked Moulton how the federal government might be able to help with infrastructure issues such as combined sewer overflows — or CSOs — from sewage treatment systems in six cities within the Merrimack River Watershed.
The CSOs, which can follow significant storms, affect people and animals in the tri-town area and others who use the river for recreation or drinking water.
Community leaders also raised concerns about local energy production needs and rising costs for recycling, according to Archibald and Parker.
State Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, brought up issues related to beach nourishment, they noted.
The two selectmen said they were unaware that the press was restricted from entering, noting that no legal exemption to the state’s Open Meeting Law was cited prior to the start of the meeting.
“No one told us that no one could come in,” Parker said.
Moulton’s office did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment on the possible Open Meeting Law violation.