Oxford County Commissioners Steven Merrill, left, David Duguay, center, and Tim Turner were addressed by Joan Kelly of Hartford on Tuesday over the commissioners’ use of executive session. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal

PARIS — Hartford resident Joan Kelly on Tuesday told Oxford County commissioners they aren’t explicit enough in explaining why they enter executive sessions during meetings.

According to Maine statute, officials may enter executive session and discuss, in private, personnel issues such as hiring and firing, and pending litigation and investigations.

Any motion to go into executive session must name the precise nature of the business of the executive session and include a citation of the statutory source of the authority to enter a closed meeting.

Kelly said that in her opinion, that process doesn’t always happen.

“I don’t necessarily see that you do that with your going into executive session,” she said. “You state which one of part six you’re using, but you don’t state why you’re going into executive session. You could say a personnel matter, but you don’t describe what that personnel matter is. It could be disciplinary action, it could be any number of things, but it’s never stated.” 

Commissioner Steven Merrill said the commissioners do, on occasion, specify why they are entering executive session and rely on the guidance of their attorney, James F. Pross of Skelton Taintor & Abbott.

I wouldn’t say it’s never done,” Merrill said. “Our attorney has been here on numerous occasions and said we need to (enter executive session). It’s been done, maybe not when you’ve been here, but it’s been done.”  

Kelly said she compiled a list of 40 instances from January 2019 to September in which commissioners entered executive session to discuss “a personnel matter.” In all of the instances, meeting minutes compiled after the meetings stated that there was no action taken on the issues discussed. Kelly said the meeting minutes do not specify when specific issues discussed in executive sessions are resolved. 

“Either we have a really large problem with personnel or we have multiple things that nothing’s being done about,” Kelly said.

She said that if commissioners clarified when issues discussed under executive session were resolved, it would be easier for her to understand.

Otherwise, it looks like there’s a ton of issues or there are a few issues but they’re never acted on. To me, that’s a problem,” she said. 

Commissioner David Duguay said the commissioners value transparency and have, in the past, invited the local community television stations to broadcast meetings.

But that wasn’t enough for Kelly.

“It comes back to having things available to the public and making it transparent for people to see what’s happening,” she said.

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