Public access ombudsman Brenda Kielty has a lot of understanding for towns that continue to do things the way they always have. Because it is rooted in long-established custom, “That is a very hard thing to change,” she told us.

However, Kielty was clear that Maine’s open meeting law has “explicit requirements for executive sessions — there is no give or take on that.”

So when town officials flout the law, attempting to use executive sessions to restrict the flow of information to their voters, we are obliged to call them to account for it. In this week’s paper, the story is about events in Waldo, but the point is less about singling out one town and more about the importance of open government.

Waldo’s Board of Selectmen has twice recently held improper executive sessions. When confronted by our reporter, First Selectman Kathy Littlefield refused to back down, saying, “so report me.” She added that she wanted to let another party know the board’s decision on a potential contract “before it comes out in the paper.” Discussion of contracts is not a permitted reason for an executive session, except in very limited circumstances, such as employment.

While officials in Waldo have continued to run things according to time-honored tradition, the world has moved on. Records management has become more complex. Documentation has grown more demanding. More and more business of all kinds is conducted online. The population has changed as well, becoming more sophisticated, and coming to expect the same of their town government. It is simply not possible – or at least not smart – to keep town records in shopping bags anymore.

Voters deserve to be able to see an agenda for an upcoming public meeting of the Select Board, the Planning Board or any other municipal body. They should be able to attend that meeting and understand what is said without having to have inside knowledge of the town from last week, last year or last decade. And they are entitled to be able to trust that those they have elected to serve the town will do so transparently and in accordance with the laws of the state, even when it may be inconvenient.

Not following the law could end up being more than inconvenient. It could get a town, and its officials, sued.

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