Arkport trustee: Part of closed-door meeting illegal
Some of what's said behind closed doors at Arkport Village Hall should be public.
Arkport Trustee Marianne Matacale said some items discussed during an executive session at last Thursday's special meeting were not handled as spelled out by state law.
The board cited “personnel matters” as the reason to go into an executive session, a closed-door portion of the meeting during which the public is excluded. The conduct of executive sessions law states a board may go into executive session to discuss: matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed; any matter which may disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer; information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed; discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation; collective negotiations pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law; the preparation, grading or administration of examinations; the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.
Section 105, No. 1, Letter F of the state Open Meetings Law states a public body may also conduct an executive session to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.
The Legal Handbook for New York State Journalists, published by the New York State Bar Association in Albany in 1998, states, “Some members of public bodies have erroneously expressed the view that they cannot divulge what occurred or was said at an executive session. That is not so, and there is no general prohibition against disclosing what occurred during an executive session.”
Matacale said there were issues discussed that involved her and were not particularly required to be addressed in executive session.
“I received complaints during executive session regarding my involvement with the media and the taxpayers,” she said.
The Evening Tribune submitted a FOIL request to the village for all village employee and elected officials' cell phone bills from July 1, 2006 to Jan. 1, 2007. When the bills were received, account and bill numbers, names and phone numbers were blacked out and 48 pages were missing. Horan's number was blacked out on all of the bills. The highest charge was $1,135.01 for the month of August, and the monthly average during that period was $439.
At the July 24 village board meeting, Arkport resident Jeff Roderick asked the board why Horan's village-issued cell phone number was listed on signs and the Web site for The Lang Agency, where Horan works as a real estate agent. That number has since been removed from the Web site.
Matacale said because she openly complained minutes had not been equitable on two specific occasions, Clerk Margaret Horan notified the board she refuses to take minutes any longer.
“She notified the board that she has contacted someone who is willing to do this and said we will have to pay for that service,” she said. “I pointed out that it is the job of the clerk. She claims not. It appeared to me that the clerk was directing the board, but the gist of it is, she flatly refuses to take minutes any longer.”
Matacale noted chapter 3, page 12 of the Handbook for Village Officials states taking minutes is a duty of the clerk. She said Village Law 4-402 also addresses this.
Matacale said Trustee Milt Floyd “acknowledged the taxpayers would not be happy to hear that we would have to pay someone now to take minutes.”
Horan said this is not official, and she is waiting for the board to decide. She said she will continue to take minutes “until the board tells me I can't.”
“That's got to be a board decision,” she said this morning.
Matacale said she was asked how the situation regarding the clerk could be made better. She said some comments were heated and other points were well taken. She said she also was asked to tell the taxpayers to talk directly to the clerk when questions arise.
“I replied that my opinion on how things could improve, first and foremost, is that the Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law be completely complied with,” she said. “So much of this could have been avoided if the submissions to the Tribune were complete and in order. I mentioned that taxpayers call me because they feel they have a hard time getting information.”
Matacale said Horan stated only three FOIL requests have ever been submitted. She said she was admonished by a fellow trustee that “these girls cannot get any work done because of all of the FOILs.”
“The general attitude is that I am blamed for everything they hear and everything they don't like,” Matacale said. “They will have to believe what they choose. I don't have the desire or energy to dispel every rumor they accept.
“I sit precariously because, like it or don't, there are double standards and different rules that apply and I refuse to be censored,” Matacale added. “I am fully prepared to take what comes with that statement, but I am for accountability and open government and I will not back down regarding it.”
Matacale noted she appreciates Floyd's objectivity considering issues she discussed.
“I feel the rest of the board is not objective and I was told to stop asking questions in public and when I do, I am labeled as an ‘accuser,'” she said.
Matacale said she was told Arkport Mayor A.J. Patti would not accept her calls for fear of being recorded, and that her e-mail, as well as others, has been blocked. However, Patti has previously said he needs to know everything going on in the village. She said the dichotomy between being required to inform Patti and his refusal to communicate with her only leaves her the option of certified mail.
“How do we unify the board?” she asked. “On a personal level, we can't. There isn't a basis for trust any longer. Professionally though, I thoroughly believe that if each member is truly for the taxpayer and that open government prevails, we can be successful in running the village the way it ought to be. It is a simple and reasonable request; respect the taxpayers' right to know.”