EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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December 2, 2012

School boss questioned on secret meeting

METHUEN — School officials called a secret meeting just before Thanksgiving to lay out changes to the Rangerland preschool program in a gathering some felt was designed to intimidate a city councilor.

School Superintendent Judith Scannell said intimidation was “absolutely not” part of the Nov. 21 meeting, which The Eagle-Tribune is contending was illegal under the state’s open meeting law. The Eagle-Tribune filed a complaint with city officials Friday.

Scannell maintains the meeting was called to explain the entire program and emphasize that it is a school issue, not an issue for the City Council. In attendance were School Committee members Evan Chaisson, Lynn Hajjar Kumm, Mary Jean Fawcett, Barbara Grondine and Mayor Stephen Zanni, making it a quorum of the School Committee.

Also in attendance were several school administrators and City Councilor Jamie Atkinson. Councilors Jennifer Kannan and Sean Fountain arrived partway through the meeting, which was not posted 48 hours in advance, as mandated under state law.

“Jamie had called Councilor Kannan and myself, and we went there right then,” Fountain said. “He asked if we would attend it.”

“The gist is (Scannell) wasn’t very nice to Jamie,” Fountain said.

Atkinson said that the meeting, at the Quinn Building school administration office on Hampshire Street, was called to discuss Rangerland, but he declined to comment on the tone of the discussion.

“It’s a dead issue,” he said. “I don’t want to comment any further.”

Both Scannell and Atkinson said they have known each other for decades, and Scannell said she talked to Atkinson after the meeting.

“I told him I wasn’t going after him, I wasn’t on the attack,” she said.

Zanni said the discussion was not meant to intimidate.

“My take is she was explaining to him how the program is going to be run and that the City Council shouldn’t interfere in it,” Zanni said.

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