Rotterdam residents have had to search really hard to figure out what times Town Board meetings happen because the town is not adhering to rules governing proper meeting notices.
“Could we be a little more transparent—fully, definitely,” said Board Member Joseph Guidarelli Thursday, following a Wednesday meeting at which the Town Board violated state Open Meeting Laws.
Guidarelli said the draft agenda would note the actual start time of the board meetings, even though the town calendar lists another time.
The town’s practice is not consistent with the state law on Open Meetings, according to Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the state Committee on Open Government.
At issue is the board’s decision to meet Wednesday around 6:30 p.m. in an executive session before the 7 p.m. public meeting was scheduled to begin. The executive session, which prohibits members of the public from observation and participation, was called to discuss an employee and possible disciplinary matters related to that employee. The meeting time listed on the town’s website stated the meeting began at 7 p.m., not 6:30 p.m.
“A motion to enter into executive session and the resulting vote must occur during a properly noticed meeting that is open to the public,” O’Neill said. “An executive session that is held prior to the start of the scheduled meeting would not, in my opinion, be consistent with law.”
Section 104 of the Open Meetings Law requires public notice of when and where a meeting will take place one week before the meeting is planned. The meeting time must be visibly clear to the public and posted in one or more designated public locations 72 hours before the meeting.
Notice of the meeting should also be sent electronically, to the extent practicable, to the media, as well as being posted publicly, according to the law.
“Our meeting agendas typically say 5:30 for Agenda Meeting where we discuss and review the resolutions,” said Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone in an email. “We have been starting at 6:30pm the last several meetings. I looked at the draft agenda for last night’s meeting and see that it mistakenly said 5:30 not 6:30. Just a typo. We started at 6:30, reviewed the Agenda, and broke for the disciplinary matter at approximately 6:41pm and returned at approximately 7pm to begin the meeting.”
Changing the meeting time on the draft agenda doesn’t necessarily meet the standard of the law either, O’Neill said.
“A change in start time via a draft agenda that is not shared, as described in section 104, would not, in my view, be consistent with Law,” O’Neill said.
Guidarelli said the draft agenda used to be posted on the town’s website the Friday before the scheduled Wednesday meeting, now it’s not accessible until Monday, sometimes later.
“It has happened so many times,” he said, noting it’s become increasingly frustrating.
So frustrating that Guidarelli said he has given up trying to point out the instances it has happened.
“It’s just not fair to the public, what we do,” Guidarelli said.
The public must also know where to find the agenda on the town’s website or be signed up to receive messages from the town when the draft agenda is posted in order to locate the correct meeting time.
Tommasone said the town will update the schedule to correctly reflect the meeting times.