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Resident Addresses Town Board On Open Meetings Law

Questions raised about appropriateness of executive sessions

 

New City resident Tom Nimick spoke to the Clarkstown Town Board Tuesday night for the second time about compliance with the .  Nimick said he thought the board was not conforming with the Open Meetings Law while board members expressed opinions that they were in line with it.

“They were not very receptive,” said Nimick, who first raised concerns about compliance after the board voted to hire Jay Savino’s law firm to handle the town’s tax certiorari matters.

Councilmember Stephanie Hausner said the issues discussed in executive sessions deal with personnel matters or litigation and are appropriately handled.

“We don’t make decisions in executive session,” she said. “No votes occur during executive session.”

Councilmember Frank Borelli thought the board acted properly.

“I think the Open Meetings Law that he put forth in front of us is one that we follow,” said Borelli.  “I think we do things the correct way.”

Borelli said he thought Nimick was interpreting the law differently from that of Town Attorney Amy Mele.   He said there are certain conversations the board must have with the town attorney that cannot take place in an open forum.

Nimick wrote of his concerns about when decisions were actually made by the board.

“You will recall that what I first observed at a Town Board Meeting was the complete lack of deliberation on decisions you were making. I am still not sure where those deliberations were taking place. Perhaps they were happening via e-mail messages. I do not know if such a practice would be a violation of the letter of the Open Meetings Law, but carrying out deliberations on public business other than in an open meeting is definitely at odds with the intent of the law.”

Nimick noted when he requested minutes from executive sessions in 2011, he was told that no minutes existed. He described that as a violation of the Opening Meetings Law in his statement.

”I requested to see the minutes of every executive session from 2011 and have been informed that no such minutes exist – in direct violation of the Open Meetings Law.”

 Hausner disputed that point on Wednesday.

“Minutes are required should a decision be made,” she said.

Hausner said recent changes to the Open Meetings Law are being instituted and the town will be specifically stating what the subject of an executive session is going to be.  After Tuesday night’s workshop the board adjourned to go into executive session for the purpose of discussing the PBA contract. 

Nimick said he would give the town board time another chance to respond to his written comments.  Depending upon what transpires, he may seek an opinion from the New York State Committee on Open Government.

Mele also disagreed with Nimick’s analysis of the Open Meetings Law. She spoke about how the town board holds workshops that allow the public to hear board members’ questions and discussions and raise their own questions. She noted that generally no action is taken at workshops.

“I disagree with the basic premise he put forward,” she said. “I think on the whole we are very, very good at complying with the Open Meetings Law.”

Nimick’s remarks to the town board and his responses to comments from board members are in the attached PDF.

Michael N. Hull March 08, 2012 at 12:56 PM
I attended the Board meeting and observed that Town Attorney, Mele, felt the need to rise from her seat during Mr. Nimick's remarks and provide counsel to members of the Board including Ms. Hausner.  For a Board member to say:  “I think we do things the correct way" or Mele to opine: “I disagree with the basic premise he put forward" does not respond to the three points Nimick made in previous communications to the Board concerning the retention of Jay Savino to handle the Town's certiorari matters. Nimick has asked repeatedly where and when discussion about Savino's retention was held and when were parameters developed for the interview of competing firms.  These questions have been asked numerous times and remain unanswered. http://newcity.patch.com/articles/search-for-tax-cert-firm-was-limited http://newcity.patch.com/articles/questions-never-do-damage http://newcity.patch.com/articles/questions-and-still-more-question http://newcity.patch.com/articles/the-town-board-and-the-open-meetings-law
Michael N. Hull March 08, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Continued: In the February 29, 2012 issue of Our Town I outlined the issues that were of concern to me among other about the retention of Savino when I wrote: "In an article appearing on the front page of the Journal News entitled 'Municipal Cases New For Clarkstown’s Tax Attorney', Town Attorney Mele said “If it is criticized, so be it”.  She "wasn't worried" Savino had no experience in representing Towns in tax certiorari cases and “she is not concerned about criticism the Town has hired a person with political clout”. One Board Member, Stephanie Hausner, stated  that "there are more qualified firms in the County that have more experience handling tax certiorari .... that is primarily what we were looking to hire a firm to do."  She also said: "there are individuals more qualified (than Savino) .. they may not come with baggage".   Simply stated Town Attorney Mele admits that Savino has 'no experience' but has 'political clout' and a Board Member says that there is 'baggage' associated with this appointment and that there are more qualified individuals who reside in our own County. 
Michael N. Hull March 08, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Continued: The citizens of Clarkstown, and particularly Mr. Nimick who took the time to personally appear before the Town Board, deserve to be given an answer by those who serve this community.  This concern about the Town's action regarding the appointment of Savino has arisen because it is thought to be something that is wrong and to date a satisfactory case has not been made to the public for his employment.  Consider the following: Former Town Attorney, Marsha Coopersmith, handled tax certiorari before being dismissed by Gromack. She was the only Town Attorney to be laid off.  Coopersmith was chair of the Independence Party and allegedly supplied that party's election line to Gromack.  Debra Ortutay, mother-in-law of Republican County Legislator Sparaco, deposed Coopersmith and allegedly then supplied the Independence Party line to Gromack until forced to resign under indictment for perjury and fraud.  Ortutay hired Savino as her defense attorney and Savino was later given a retainer fee of $87,000 to conduct the tax matters previously performed by Ortutay's nemesis, Coopersmith.  The citizens of Clarkstown deserve a response worthy of the employment of Ms. Mele as a Town Attorney and Mr. Gromack as the Town Supervisor to the questions that have been raised about the process whereby this appointment was made. Savino's services to the Town were procured in apparent violation of the Open Meetings Law.
Michael N. Hull March 08, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Continued: If there is nothing to hide about this appointment then the Town should come forward with the parameters for hiring Mr Savino as requested by Mr. Nimick. Further, Ms Mele should explain why she is not concerned that Savino has no experience, and Ms Hausner should explain who are the individuals she is aware of in Rockland County that are 'more qualified', why their qualifications were not discussed in an open meeting, provide the criteria by which these firms were rejected, and explain what she meant by the use of the word 'baggage' concerning Mr Savino's appointment."
Richard Kavesh March 08, 2012 at 01:09 PM
If any Clarkstown or other resident thinks that decisions are being made via email, all they need to do is go to the Town Clerk and fill out a Freedom of Information Law request and detail -- very specifically -- the information they are looking for, for example: "correspondence between Town Board members concerning the issue of..." Some portions of these emails may have to be redacted, but trust me on this that email among Board members on Town business is fully FOILable.
Watchdog March 08, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Mr. Kavesh, you may not be aware that even though information is FOILABLE, it may not be forthcoming. But you can appeal it to the Appeals Officer, none other than .....wait this is good......The Appeals Officer is.........yes you guessed it..........ALEX GROMACK, who happens to live around the corner, down the street from...........JAY SAVINO!
Michael N. Hull March 08, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Correction. The third link above should read: http://newcity.patch.com/articles/questions-and-still-more-questions
amy durbin March 08, 2012 at 01:34 PM
they said no decisions were made. However, Marsha Coopersmith was fired during executive session, jay Savino was hired during executive session, the raises for the CSEA and the police were made during executive session. Where are the minutes?
Watchdog March 08, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Someone is not telling the truth. It shouldbe a requirement to put these Town Board members under oath before eacs meeting. BTW, Amy Mele is very slippery. I wouldnot trust her as far as I can throw Alex Gromack.
Brenda M March 08, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Everybody see the March 07, 2012 article 'Flooding plan is 'Gromack's folly' http://www.lohud.com/article/20120308/OPINION/303080034/Flooding-plan-Gromack-s-folly-?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Frontpage|s Benson Blake of Nyack writes -   "Supervisor Alex Gromack’s political decision to build a “high hazard” dam and concrete detention basin on “open space” preservation parkland has gone forward. Regardless of public outcry and despite serious issues raised, the supervisor has proceeded.  And for what? Occasional basement flooding? Central Nyackers are a traditionally underserved, low-income, minority community whose infrastructure — long neglected — needs upgrading. Gromack’s cynical solution — taken with no real unbiased scrutiny, is counter-productive in the least, criminal at worst. “Gromack’s Folly” is an insidious example of governmental malfeasance, personal political corruption, and taxpayer/voter abuse. Gromack and his enablers in this matter should be impeached and sued for their gross breach of public trust and the law. Unfortunately, term limits may have to suffice. Advocated by Gromack/Lasker, et al when running for office, but opposed when elected, term limits would assure that the system be “purged” on a regular basis." We have got to get rid of this person. He apparently works behind closed doors and brings people of questionable abilities on to our tax rolls.

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