Silver Creek holds illegal board meeting
SILVER CREEK – Less than a week after new village board members were sworn into office in Silver Creek, an unannounced meeting was held.
New Mayor Nick Piccolo was contacted about the meeting which was held the afternoon of April 6.
Piccolo said, “It was not a meeting,” classifying the gathering of all four board members and himself as “a workshop” and “a training session for new board members.”
He said no action was taken.
“It was a get together to bring the new trustees on board with what they have to do going forward,” he said.
The Open Meetings Law defines a meeting as “the official convening of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business.”
“First, in my view, there is no legal distinction between a ‘workshop’ and a ‘meeting.’ By way of background, it is noted that the definition of ‘meeting’ has been broadly interpreted by the courts,” Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman stated in an advisory opinion.
In the 1978 case Orange County Publications v. Council of the City of Newburgh, the Court of Appeals found that any gathering of a quorum of a government board for the purpose of conducting public business is a “meeting” that must be open to the public, whether or not there is an intent to take action and regardless of the manner in which a gathering may be characterized.
When this was pointed out to Piccolo, he said, “I know, but we weren’t having a quorum to do business.”
The Court of Appeals in the same case addressed the distinction in its decision.
“There would be no need for this law if (voting) was all the Legislature intended. Obviously, every thought, as well as every affirmative act of a public official as it relates to and is within the scope of one’s official duties is a matter of public concern. It is the entire decision-making process that the Legislature intended to affect by the enactment of this statute,” it said.
Piccolo also characterized the meeting as an “informal meeting to get people aware of their duties, responsibilities and what to look forward to.”
The Court of Appeals also addressed this issue in the case saying, “We believe that it was inserted to safeguard the rights of members of a public body to engage in ordinary social transactions, but not to permit the use of this safeguard as a vehicle by which it precludes the application of the law to gatherings which have as their true purpose the discussion of the business of a public body.”
Piccolo also admitted notice was not given to the public or the media of the meeting.
“It was a training session. I didn’t feel anyone else needed to be there. Yeah we had a quorum but we didn’t talk business except learning,” he said.
According to Freeman, in an advisory opinion, public notice is required for meetings of government boards.
“The notice requirements are now, in most instances, threefold. Notice must be given to the news media, posted in one or more designated, conspicuous publications, and when feasible to do so, notice must also be posted on the website associated with a public body. When a meeting is scheduled at least a week in advance, notice must be given at least 72 hours prior to a meeting. When a meeting is scheduled less than a week in advance, notice must be given “to the extent practicable” at a reasonable time prior to the meeting,” he said.
No notice was given to the OBSERVER, the village’s official newspaper.
The advisory opinion stated there are two ways which a government board may discuss public business in private. One involves entry into an executive session, for which there are specific topics allowed to be discussed. And the other involves “exemptions” outlined in the Open Meetings law as “deliberations of political committees, conferences and caucuses.”
Piccolo said he will learn from the experience.
“If I was wrong, I was wrong. I will learn from it,” he said.
The Silver Creek Village Board will hold its regular meeting April 15. The preliminary budget will be presented at that meeting.
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