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Councilors Didn't Violate Open Meeting Law, City Solicitor Says

Councilor Jeremy Denlea says accuser Councilor Richard Conti is a bully. Conti says he wants to bring much-needed fresh air and sunlight to Attleboro government.

City Councilors Jeremy Denlea and Walter Thibodeau did not violate the state's open meeting law when they privately discussed a possible solution to parking enforcement problems in Attleboro, City Solicitor Robert Mangiaratti wrote in a letter submitted Monday to Council President Frank Cook and Mayor Kevin Dumas.

[The letter is attached to this article]

Councilor Richard Conti that the law had been violated.

Denlea applauded Mangiaratti's opinion and slammed Conti in an email to Attleboro-Seekonk Patch.

"I will not allow a fellow city councilor to bully me," Denlea wrote. "I will continue to work hard for the residents of Attleboro. I will continue to work with fellow councilors and the administration to find compromises that benefit the city as a whole."

He added, "Mr. Conti's allegations were intentionally dishonest and malicious in nature. The city solicitor found there to be no legal basis for these allegations whatsoever."

Conti said it was "dumb" to call him a bully.

"This is all about public access," Conti said. "I am a champion of fresh air and sunlight in government, and boy does Attleboro need it."

The councilor said "secret meetings" are frequent among Attleboro city officials. He said an example of this is that city councilors gather at local restaurants after the weekly public meetings.

"Thankfully, I don't get invited to the secret meetings, so I don't have to turn them down," Conti said.

The open meeting law prohibits a majority of a public body from talking in private about city business. Denlea and Thibodeau sit on the council's three-member Committee on Transportation and Traffic. 

Mangiaratti determined Thibodeau and Denlea did not violate the law because the issue had not been assigned to a committee, so the councilors were communicating as two members of the 11-member council rather than as a majority of a three-member committee.

He added, "After Councilor Denlea drafted the proposed ordinance, Councilor Thibodeau's only communication was that he would agree to co-sponsor it. He expressed no opinion about the details of the proposal, electing to defer discussion until the time of an open meeting. In these circumstances Councilors Thibodeau and Denlea did not violate the letter or the spirit of the law."

Regarding this conclusion, Conti said, "I have to agree with the city solicitor. I'm not a lawyer."

However, Conti was more interested in another statement in the opinion.

Mangiaratti wrote, "I advise that a group of councilors should not conduct secret meetings to work out precise details of proposed legislation even if the matter is not officially on the council's docket." 

Rebecca Schmit May 23, 2012 at 10:11 AM
Wow... Mr. Conti really is a bully. Shameful.
Nelson Almeida May 23, 2012 at 12:09 PM
We have similar issues here in seekonk. Sad
Henry May 23, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I see no problem with Mr. Conti questioning if there was a potential open meeting law violation. If it is done respectfully and openly that is a good thing. If the part time, snot nose brat champion of Ward 5 doesn't like it then he can take his privledged little life and Chello and go home, because home certainly isn't Attleboro. Anyone who swoops into town 8 months before an election and claims to be vested in this city is a fraud. You are a Ward councilor in a tiny little city and beat out a guy who quit, perhaps you have grander asperations....great go seek them out somewhere else. Councilor Conti- Keep pressing them all, challenge everything! When they are clean they have nothing to worry about. When they are sneaky it is fun to watch them squirm.
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Since this article is about transparency in government, let's try to practice that in the comment section. Don't hide behind an alias. Be proud of what you post and use your actual name.
Reason May 23, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Conti is not part of the close knit group of councilors many of whom are pawns of the mayor. This is why I will vote for him again. He does a better job of representing his constituents than others on the council. Political drama unrelated to actual decisions made by council members is irrelevant.
Sandy Miller May 23, 2012 at 03:08 PM
To Mr Conti: I find it odd that you classify “city councilors gather(ing) at local restaurants after the weekly public meetings” as “secret meetings.” For starters, I am sure local business appreciates the patronage. Second, if they were so secret, wouldn’t they be in a place that was not out in the public - say, a councilor’s private, backyard patio? I guess I just figured out why you self-proclaim being a “champion of fresh air and sunlight.” You only hold your PRIVATE meetings outside!
Buck Farack May 23, 2012 at 04:26 PM
There's nothing wrong with Conti questioning whether there was an open meeting violation and whether there was one or not here isn't the point. Mr. Denlea's characterization of it as bullying is disturbing. Bullying is a serious issue and one would expect an elected official to choose his words more carefully.
Gretchen Robinson May 23, 2012 at 05:12 PM
There's a lot of bullying going on these days--and it needs to be named as such. It's not just kids in and out of schools. It happens-- and has happened in the past that Councilors use bullying tactics to get their way and try to take over the leadership with their own agenda. They need to be confronted by constituents. Councilor Conti was bullying when he attacked members of the library board during the fracas over the Attleboro Farmer's Market. He, in my opinion, rode roughshod over that process and made it more contentious than it needed to be. His agenda needed to be how best to solve the problems. I still have his letter to the editor and it's a lulu at being self-defensive and self-serving. This not how I want Councilors to act. Better to collaborate and cooperate with one another to get the job done. That's why we elect them, to be emotionally mature enough to work with others and not be grand-standing. On a national level there's bullying by Catholic Bishops and Republicans who want to take away birth control and make cuts to to programs for women and children. Leaders can go on a power trip. Inevitably this political bullying devolves from to other levels of government. We need to insist that our Councilors work together and work out their conflicts. Most important of all is to hold them accountable when they do not act or perform responsibly--responsible to us, the voters.
Buck Farack May 23, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Gretchen, last I checked this article was about a City Councilor questioning a potential Open Meeting violation in a public forum. That was not bullying, not even close. Disagree with him if you like on the way the Farmers Market fiasco was handled but that wasn't bullying either nor were the absurd and inflexible actions of Library Trustees in that matter either although I'm sure many could call that bullying as well since that seems to be the new term when someone disagrees with one's political position. It's politics, it's not bullying. Why doesn't it surprise me that you'd bring up political bullying at the national level and point the finger only at Republicans? While I disagree with the Catholic Bishops & Republicans on the birth control issue I see you conveniently left out the "bullying" of the Democrats ramming Obamacare down everyone's throats. You talk about how you want politicians to act, to work together and work out their conflicts... as long as they agree with your point of view, right?
Gretchen Robinson May 23, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I disagree. Rick Conti was bullying and I think he exceeded his authority when he unilaterally attacked the Library Trustees. Your opinion of the Trustees seems to be is one-sided, even biased. I worked with the APL for years to put on programs that needed to take place here, and the Attleboro Public Library is well run and DOES work well with others. The point I was trying to make is how politics has devolved more and more into hostility, attack, bullying, manipulation of voters (on the national level). I don't want to see that kind of thing any more on the Council. Why didn't he take his concerns to the City Council and discuss it there and advocate for Council action? NO, instead he indulged in an intemperate outburst in the newspaper. He said things like "I'm not Alice in Wonderland" in his letter to the Editor. I don't even understand what he was saying. It sounded like he was losing it at that point. I like what Mr. Conti has done at the Council on Aging and for AFM. But that doesn't give him the right to be high-handed. He needs to learn to work well with the other City Councilors. If he does, maybe next time I'll vote for him. I voted for him before but have my doubts about next time, from what I've seen and hear, including from his mouth.
Buck Farack May 23, 2012 at 07:14 PM
My opinion seems one sided, even biased? Really Gretchen? And yours is balanced and objective, right? I don't think Conti's handling of the Library Trustee issue was his finest moment but they bear a bunch of responsibility for the AFM debacle. I notice you didn't mention the absurd behavior of Councilors Blais or Cook during the City Council meeting even though they were widely criticized for their little rants and chair pushing, etc. If you're going to call Conti's actions bullying & over the top you can't not say the same about theirs (for the record I don't think any of it is bullying & am offended by the misuse of the term). I noticed you conveniently didn't respond to the rest of my post. It's not about who's right and wrong in the potential Open Meeting violation Conti QUESTIONED in an open forum, it's about the misuse of the term bullying and how you tried to tie it in to politics on the national level, all of which you are far from unbiased in. You're typical of the fanatics on either fringe of the political spectrum who think they have a monopoly on righteousness.
Gretchen Robinson May 23, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I find your sneering annoying and unhelpful. You assume a moral superiority and certainty when anyone challenges you. Too bad. I don't have time to mess around here. Like Mr. Conti and Jeremy Dunlea I am trying to make a difference in this world. Watch my dust. The writer Anais Nin said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." I'm trying now to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Thus I encourage Mr. Conti to not get too full of himself. That no one is perfect and we all makes mistakes. But we have to learn from our missteps. Bullying is just such a mistake. We can't afford it, from any group or individual. We wonder why there's bullying in the USA?? Well look at how it's all over the tv on every level.
Buck Farack May 23, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Gretchen, do you even read what you write before you hit the submit button?. I assume moral superiority? coming from you that's laughable. You don't have time to mess around on here yet here you are responding to me three times w relatively lengthy posts. Usually when one finds themselves unable to debate the issue at hand they proceed with how they don't have the time, how they're above it all... how they're out there making a difference. Yes Gretchen, you're smarter, above it all, making a difference while I'm sitting here pulling the wings off flies for my amusement.
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 08:35 PM
We appear to have gone off topic in this thread. Please bring the focus of discussion back to the article. And as always, using your real name is strongly encouraged.
Gretchen Robinson May 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM
synonyms for "Bully" oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate. strong-arm, dominate, push-around. I think the Library got pushed around, at the very least. And I stand by the word bullying to characterize some of Mr. Conti's actions. I am leaving this thread. I had my say. Readers can make of this what they will.
Dolly May 24, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Watch the repeat video of that meeting. I think you'll change your mind.What I think you'll see is Mr. Denlea being very arrogant. Just because one claims he was bullied does not make it true. Next Mr. Denlea will be claiming gay bashing. What a crock!
Roxanne Houghton May 24, 2012 at 12:59 AM
If we have gotten to the point that if one of our Representatives questions something, whether it be procedure, or anythig else, we yell "Bully", then we might as well forget about a democratc process. The word "Bully" is now used for the same purpose as the word "Racist: Nobody likes to be called either, and both words are used to silence. Is that what you want??? Silence? Thats what they have in other countries - not here. People have forgotten the true meaning of Bully. Pay a visit to New Hope and ask what their definition of a Bully is..........
Buck Farack May 24, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Jonathan, bullying is cogent to this discussion given Councilor Denlea's quote in the media that he was bullied relating to this issue. You can strongly encourage using real names however The Patch allows people to use pseudonyms and more people than not do so. If you want to see the results of patronizing, heavy handed discussion forum monitoring and the requirement to register with real names perhaps you might cheek out the once active Sun Chronicle reader comments section which has all but disappeared. The Patch now has the active reader comments section and it's great for buzz & the advertisers benefit from it as well (I know, I have one of the larger ads on the page) but the weak link is the local editorial control because it can be inconsistent from one town to the next. We all saw what happened to the interest in the Attleboro page when Patricia left. It's finally making its way back a little at a time, I hope it continues to do so.
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) May 24, 2012 at 01:32 AM
"Buck," my comment about being off-topic was not because of the discussion of bullying. It was regarding the back and forth shot-taking and discussion of national political topics that have nothing to do with this issues raised in this article. Please review the terms of use agreement for this site, as you will see it clearly states that people should not use pseudonyms. The biggest complaint I get from community members about this site is the use of fake names in the comments section. Feel free to email me at jonathan.friedman@patch.com if you would like to discuss this further.
Just sayin' May 24, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Food for thought - I use a handle, or pseudonym, to maintain privacy and safety. I'm proud of my comments - I just don't want to put my first and last name on a blog that is targeted to a specific town/community. Besides - those of us who follow know that there is at least one member who had used a false name purposefully posing as someone there were not (Ty something-or-other). However - commenting on the story at hand - I don't believe Mr. Conti's comments were altruistic but Mr. Denlea's response seems to have been crafted to be emotional and inflammatory - which in my book is intellectually lazy.
Nelson Almeida May 24, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Love it !! This is priceless. Attleborough has the same political issues as Seekonk. So sad. So sad. Just pathetic. We all need to grow up. Lead by example. Make decisions on fact not personal feelings. One day these nursery level politics will graduate to adult like. Thank you
Buck Farack May 24, 2012 at 04:11 PM
"Jonathan" at least we agree about the discussion drifting towards national politics topics - Gretchen began making those connections and I called her on it and the discussion ensued. That's what happens in these comments sections, back & forth on the issue (or non issue) of the day. If people should not use pseudonyms then The Patch should enforce it but they won't because they'll lose most of their participation and their comments section will fade to irrelevancy like the others that require real names. Also, does The Patch verify that people are who they say they are when they use "real" names? I'd just as soon know someone is using a pseudonym than wonder if that person is using a made up name. How does anyone know if Nelson Almeida isn't really someone else? (Sorry Nelson, not implying anything, just using yout name as an example). Some of the most insightful posters on here use pseudonyms and some of the people who use their real names should really think twice about some of the stuff they post.
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) May 24, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Buck, I know Nelson. He would have spoken up long ago if somebody were impersonating him. Please check your email for my further responses to your post.
Briana Auclair May 24, 2012 at 09:24 PM
We're quick to go for the word "Bully" these days, eh? As someone said earlier that other synonyms are "oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate, strong-arm, dominate, push-around" - I question the idea that Mr. Conti "oppressed, harrassed, intimidated, strong-armed, dominated or pushed around" Mr. Denlea when he asked for accountability on a private out of council meeting. I suspect Mr. Denlea went straight for that word to appear as more of a victim than he really is since it's such a popular term to throw around. I find it laughable considering that Mr. Denlea was dishing it out not so long ago when he went into a long rant in a meeting attacking Mr. Weydt in a completely unnecessary manner. I never heard Councilman Weydt whimper and throw the "He bullied me" excuse. There is a clear difference between a councilman being asked to explain himself for meeting out of a public forum to discuss PUBLIC matter and a young child doing harm to themselves because of another childs verbal or physical harassment. Mr. Denlea I will offer you some sound advice if you ever want to survive politics- grow some thicker skin and stop whimpering or move to a town that is amused by your antics. While I don't always agree with the way Mr. Conti goes about things I do believe that he is doing them for the right reasons. He is trying to get the "buddy-buddy/backdoor" politics out of Attleboro. And I can't fault him for that.
Steven Scott May 24, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Bully? I believe Conti was just trying to spare the council some embarrassing and possibly legal recourse.What if no one said anything and it turned out that this was a violation, would Jeremy be whining that no one told him so?? Grow up Jeremy,your at the adult table now!!
Sandy Miller May 25, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Briana - I agree with you on two items in your post. I think bully is too strong a word to describe Mr Conti's actions. I also don't always agree with the way Mr Conti goes about things. However, I do not believe that what motivates him are as you describe "the right reasons." Mr Conti is a classic megalomaniac that does things to promote his own agenda. When his agenda crosses over to a block of voters, he obviously gains some support. But make no mistake, Mr Conti's actions are always self-serving and self-promoting.
Jerry Chase June 07, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I disagree with the over-paid City Solicitor. It is immaterial as to whether a given issue "has been assigned to committee". That is an unacceptable rationale. If two councilors are on a given committee, such constitutes a quorum, and thus a violation of the Open Meeting Law can indeed take place, even if the matter had not yet been formally assigned to a standing committee. Frankly, Mr. Conti is the finest city councilor that Attleboro has. I strongly disagree with those who engage in this "politics of personal destruction". Mr. Conti has courage and willingness to discuss matters openly----a far cry from many councilors. G. F. Chase
Jerry Chase July 28, 2012 at 03:11 AM
The last statement in this story, the quote from City Solicitor, R. Mangiaratti, seems almost double-talk. He initially states that there was no OML violation (because of some technicality) . . . but later says "I advise" them not to secretly meet / discuss even if the alleged technicality need not be invoked. He claims no violation, but says not to do it anymore. Huh? Isn't the latter statement a tacit admission?

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