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Committee on Open Government says Berne Town Board went to executive sessions for wrong reason

Aug 10, 2020 6:15 am
The Altamont Enterprise reports that New York State’s Committee on Open Government says that the Berne Town Board's executive sessions for discussing “personnel matters” — as it has done at least twice this year and five times in 2019 — violate the state's Open Meetings Law. “While for some it may be a matter of semantics,” Executive Director Shoshanah Bewlay told The Enterprise, “you are correct that the [Open Meetings Law] requires that the public body describe the content of the Executive Session with specific reference to one of the stated enumerated proper topics for such session, and the words ‘personnel matters’ do not appear in the statute.” Councilperson Joel Willsey said that the board lied about discussing “personnel matters” to enter into an executive session on April 29 that he said was spent criticizing him. But new town lawyer Javid Afzali, from Bond Schoeneck & King, told the board executive session was appropriate for discussing personnel matters. “Under the Open Meetings Law,” Afzali said, “a permissible reason to go into executive session is to discuss personnel matters, which includes disciplinary matters. Elected officials are certainly subject to discipline.” But the Committee on Open Government says that is not true. Afzali declined to comment. The newspaper reports that the Berne Town Board went to an executive session, where the public cannot see or hear what is happening, because of “personnel matters" on April 22 and April 29, and five times last year under a different administration. The state’s Open Meetings Law says that an elected board may go into executive session for matters that will imperil public safety that will disclose the identity of a law-enforcement agent; that would imperil law enforcement involved in investigating or prosecuting a criminal offense; that involves litigation; that involves collective bargaining; that involves the preparation, grading, or administration of exams; or that involves the proposed acquisition, sale, or lease of property or securities when publicity could affect value. Read more about this story in The Altamont Enterprise.