By Michael Bowman
I would like local residents to read an article that appeared on the VictorPost.com, a news blog serving the community of Victor, N.Y. I believe some local residents have pointed to Victor, NY as a case study for “Formula Business Ban” laws and as being somewhat equivalent to Cold Spring and Philipstown in terms of demographics.
Curiously, I came across this article entitled “Behind closed doors: Executive sessions” and it too struck me as another issue that we share in common with the community of Victor, NY.
On numerous occasions I have been in Town and Village meetings that have been adjourned into Executive Session, and on more than one occasion the Village of Cold Spring Attorney Stephen Gaba has attempted to explain to me how their use of “Closed Session” differs from the rules governing “Executive Session”. On all occasions the reasons given for these adjournments behind closed doors have always been generic things such as “To confer with consul,” “negotiations,” and “Personnel Matters.”
Well according to the New York State Committee on Open Government those types of generic justifications aren’t good enough. In fact, the voting, taxpaying public in attendance is entitled to more. “According to a recent Appellate Division decision, it’s not enough for leaders to merely regurgitate the statutory language for conducting an executive session. “They must plainly state what will be discussed, and should include enough information so the public can legitimately believe there’s a valid reason for closing the doors.”
I firmly believe that our local boards, especially the Village of Cold Spring Board of Trustees have abused the power of Executive Session and/or Closed Session on numerous occasions. The one instance that stands out in my mind was an occasion when I was asked to leave the Village Board Meeting room because the board was adjourning in order to enter a “closed session.” When I refused to leave the room because no topic was given, the Village Board instead decided to move their proceedings behind closed doors in a room down the hall. No justification, other than a generic “closed session” was ever provided to the public for this meeting. This made me begin to wonder exactly what issues were so sensitive in our one square mile village that they had to be handled in complete secrecy.
I think Robert Freeman, COOG executive director, is one-hundred percent correct when he warns “against the public, or leaders, settling for buzz words like “personnel,” which appear nowhere in Open Meetings Law or Freedom of Information Law. “In this country too many Americans have become stupid and sheep-like,” said Freeman, “and when we hear certain comments repeatedly, we begin to believe that they are true. And when we do, we may lose our rights.”
I invite all resident of Philipstown to read this article, and to familiarize themselves with the COOG website Mr. Freeman is always available to answer taxpayer’s questions about local government procedural matters and how they pertain to the principals of Open Government. He can be reached at (518) 474-2518.
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