Open Meeting Law Complaint Shuts Down Meeting about GE

The Boston Planning and Development Agency planned to vote on General Electric's new headquarters.

General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt waits for the start of the annual shareholders meeting, Wednesday, April 23, 2008, in Erie, Pa. Immelt is telling shareholders that the economy is the toughest it's been since 2001 and that the U.S. is facing the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Photo via AP

Ah, the Open Meeting Law complaint. There are few tools in a protester’s tool box more effective at embarrassing decision-makers than the state’s rules on the proper noticing of public hearings.

The latest example came last night when a group, which opposes deals offered by the city to General Electric to relocate here, stopped a meeting of the Boston Planning and Development Agency in its tracks. The newly renamed agency (formerly the BRA) had been expected to approve plans for GE’s new Fort Point headquarters, for which the corporation had been offered $25 million in tax breaks.

But the group, Make GE Pay, cried foul over the way the meeting had been promoted, and accused the agency of limiting the opportunity for public input on it. A print-out of the agenda had been stored in a locked glass case in City Hall, its members say, and the parts of it that indicated there would be discussion about GE were not visible. The group announced it filed an OML complaint in a tweet.

According to the news site Universal Hub, as well as activists who were watching the hearing, the board took a long recess, then decided to postpone discussions and public comment for a few weeks.

“We are reviewing a possible clerical error that occurred when noticing the agenda for last night’s meeting, but out of an abundance of caution a portion of the Oct. 20 Boston Planning & Development Agency board agenda items will be voted on a later date, yet to be determined,” BPDA spokeswoman Gina Phsyic wrote in an email.

This won’t exactly ruin GE’s plans to build its new facility. “It’s no big deal,” GE spokeswoman Sue Bishop tells the Globe. “We’re ready. And we’ll do this when they’re ready.”

The Open Meeting Law, an accountability statute that covers everything from legislative hearings to meetings of local planning boards, prohibits public bodies from holding meetings without letting people know about them in public as early as is reasonable. When they don’t, people can complain. And, for the officials accused of it, it’s never a good look.