Copy of DR Exterior LM

Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School. (Sun Chronicle photo by Mike George)

Well, it's finally happened.

A local official has managed to make the current Republican presidential primary race look dignified by comparison. And with much less reason.

The current conflict between a member of the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee, which is responsible for the governance of D-R Regional High and middle and elementary schools in both towns, and a Rehoboth town official is not only an embarrassment; it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the state's open meeting and public records laws - a lack of understanding that's not limited, sadly, to this one case or this one government body.

But first, some background

At the moment, the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee is in the process of reworking the regional district agreement for the first time in decades.

The goals of the committee include incorporating current state Department of Education laws and regulations and updating policies and procedures of the school committee. The current agreement, drafted in 1957, has not been updated since 1987 and does not incorporate provisions of the 1993 Education Reform Act. The new agreement will update the way the towns assess costs for the regional district and how the district drafts its budget. So it's of more than casual interest to taxpayers in both Dighton and Rehoboth.

The update is the task of a joint group, the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional Agreement Amendment Committee, the meetings of which, it seems to us, pretty clearly fall under the regulations of the state's open meeting and public records laws.

Those include a provision that minutes of all government meetings - including who attended and what votes were taken - be produced in written form - not just video or audio recordings - in a timely manner.

Recently, Michael Deignan, chairman of the Rehoboth Finance Committee, asked to review the minutes of one joint committee meeting only to be told that, sorry, there aren't any, even though we are 18 months into the committee's work. (There are videotapes of the meetings, which Deignan was invited to watch, but, again, the requirement is for written minutes.) Deignan, saying he is acting as a private citizen, has filed a formal complaint that the amendment committee is in violation of the Open Meeting Law, sending copies to co-chairmen of the regional agreement committee, among others.

For his trouble, he received the following email from Chris Andrade, a Dighton member of the regional school board and one of the co-chairmen of the amendment committee: "Your (sic) an idiot."

Leaving aside the question of whether it's ever a good idea for a public official to call a colleague (let alone a registered voter) names, such a response reflects poorly on Mr. Andrade's temperament, and also his understanding of the state's laws designed to make sure government operates in the open.

Therefore, in our view, first of all, Mr. Andrade should issue an immediate and public apology to Mr. Deignan, the school committee and his constituents for abusing a citizen who was doing no more than acting within his rights.

If he doesn't, he should face a formal reprimand from the school board.

Second, the amendment committee should follow through on it's commitment to produce and make public a complete set of minutes of its meetings, as required by law, without delay.

Finally, the D-R board and its subcommittees should make an effort to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the state's open meeting and public records laws.

And lest they think we are picking on them, we acknowledge that as public officials they are not alone, or even the worst offenders.

The Sun Chronicle itself has filed complaints over the years to get public bodies that are responsible to the public to do their business in public in compliance with the law.

It would seem to be a simple concept to grasp unless you're an....

But we don't want to call anyone names.