Niskayuna withholds naming position it discussed behind closed doors

Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed is pictured on Jan. 9, 2019.

Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed is pictured on Jan. 9, 2019.

The Niskayuna town attorney is still refusing to acknowledge what position the Town Board discussed as part of an executive session Tuesday evening, even though prior court cases and opinions have stated boards should be specific in such instances.

Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed motioned to move into an executive session at the end of the town’s monthly meeting and said the board would discuss the “employment history of a particular person or matter leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, dismissal or removal of a particular person.”

Town attorney Paul Briggs refused to supply additional details when he was asked at the meeting for further information about the position the Town Board intended to discuss.

“It has to do with an appointment matter, we’re not going to tell you what position it is,” he said. 

Briggs then refused again Wednesday to provide more details about the position the board discussed.

Per the State Committee on Open Government Advisory Opinion dated April 22, 1997, a motion by a board member to move into executive session ‘need not identify the person or position that is the subject of the discussion,’” he stated in an email.

However, a more recent ruling quoted in an advisory opinion on Sept. 2, 2014 states that a board should for employment or appointment matters name the position being discussed. 

“Accordingly, we encourage board members to express information about the intended topic(s) for discussion in executive session in a manner that clarifies that the discussions are within the parameters of the law, and to protect individuals from what might be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and/or the government’s ability to function,” the advisory opinion states. 

The opinion continues to note a ruling by the Appellate Division in Zehner v. Board of Education of Jordan-Elbridge.  

“In one instance, the court held that when the board entered into executive session to discuss ‘matters related to the appointment or employment of a particular person,’ it must identify the matter as part of the process of searching for a new superintendent,” the opinion states.

That ruling was noted in an email to Briggs and all of the Town Board members. 

Briggs said any mention of which position was being discussed would “would essentially identify the subjects of the discussion, thereby defeating the purpose and intent of the conduct of an executive session.”

No Town Board members returned a request for comment. 

In a Times Union article published Tuesday, Syed said that the board would likely enter into executive session to discuss candidates for the position of police chief, after civil service test scores were released. When asked why the town declined to also tell The Gazette which position the town intended to discuss, Syed said in writing that the town attorney would respond to the question.

The names of the officers seeking that position had already been released by Syed in May. Those officers included then-interim Police Chief Fran Wall, Deputy Chief Michael Stevens, Sgt. Todd Frenyea and Sgt. Jordan Kochan. 

Wall retired in June, leaving only three internal officers vying for the position. 

On Wednesday Syed provided the test scores of the three remaining officers – Kochan received a 94.5, Stevens a 76 and Frenyea got a 74. 

“We also did not receive exam results for Chief Wall,” Syed said. “We are in the process of following up with County Civil Service on whether she passed the exam.”

An appointment for the chief’s position must be made by Aug. 15, according to the test results document. 

Filling the Town Board seat vacated by board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith is another outstanding position the town must fill.

“I do not have an update at this time regarding Jaquith’s replacement,” Syed said. 

Board member Denise Murphy McGraw, who is also the town’s Democratic Committee chairwoman, said she’s asked for input from Town Board members regarding Jaquith’s open seat. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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