IN OPEN LETTER GEORGE POTANOVIC JR. QUESTIONS WHETHER FINN AND TOWN BOARD FOLLOW PUBLIC MEETING PROCEDURE

Dear Supervisor Finn and Stony Point Town Board members,

I am concerned that the Town of Stony Point Town Board has been violating the provisions of the NYS Open Meeting Law by consistently not identifying subject(s) being discussed in executive session. The Opens Meeting Law, clearly states the requirement that a governmental body identify the particular subject matters being discussed. It seems clear, based on the published opinion of Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the NYS Department of State Committee on Open Government that when the Town of Stony Point votes to enter executive session by simply identifying “personnel matters” falls short of the requirements under the Public Officers Law § 105 [1].

Freeman wrote an opinion concerning the requirement of a governmental body to specifically identify the subject matter being discussed before voting to enter Executive Session, dated April 22, 1997. To read the entire opinion,visit: http://docs.dos.ny.gov/coog/otext/o2748.htm

More recently, the Appellate Division, Third Department, confirmed the advice rendered by the Committee and held that:

“…the public body must identify the subject matter to be discussed (See, Public Officers Law § 105 [1]), and it is apparent that this must be accomplished with some degree of particularity, i.e., merely reciting the statutory language is insufficient (see, Daily Gazette Co. v Town Bd., Town of Cobleskill, 111 Misc 2d 303, 304-305). Additionally, the topics discussed during the executive session must remain within the exceptions enumerated in the statute (see generally, Matter of Plattsburgh Publ. Co., Div. of Ottaway Newspapers v City of Plattsburgh, 185 AD2d §18), and these exceptions, in turn, ‘must be narrowly scrutinized, lest the article’s clear mandate be thwarted by thinly veiled references to the areas delineated thereunder’ (Weatherwax v Town of Stony Point, 97 AD2d 840, 841, quoting Daily Gazette Co. v Town Bd., Town of Cobleskill, supra, at 304; see, Matter of Orange County Publs., Div. of Ottaway Newspapers v County of Orange, 120 AD2d 596, lv dismissed 68 NY 2d 807).

“Applying these principles to the matter before us, it is apparent that the Board’s stated purpose for entering into executive session, to wit, the discussion of a ‘personnel issue’, does not satisfy the requirements of Public Officers Law § 105 (1) (f). The statute itself requires, with respect to personnel matters, that the discussion involve the ’employment history of a particular person” (id. [emphasis supplied]). Although this does not mandate that the individual in question be identified by name, it does require that any motion to enter into executive session describe with some detail the nature of the proposed discussion (see, State Comm on Open Govt Adv Opn dated Apr. 6, 1993), and we reject respondents’ assertion that the Board’s reference to a ‘personnel issue’ is the functional equivalent of identifying ‘a particular person'” [Gordon v. Village of Monticello, 620 NY 2d 573, 575; 207 AD 2d 55 (1994)].

In the interest of transparency, the Stony Point Town Board is required to identify not only the general category ie: personnel issues but the specific subject(s) for discussion that may be legally conducted in executive session as indicated in Section §105. Conduct of executive sessions. As elected officials, you take an oath of office to uphold the laws of the State of New York. In this case, it seems obvious that you are not currently complying with the NYS Open Meeting Law and I, therefore, urge you to request legal advice from the town attorney and the NYS Department of State on this matter in order to finally correct this situation because the subject has been raised repeatedly in the past and has remained unresolved.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

George Potanovic, Jr.
President, SPACE
Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment