Ethics Board Routinely Violated Open Meetings Law

 

The New York State Open Meetings Law requires that proper notice be provided to the public of the time and place of meetings of governmental bodies.

Article 7, section 104 of the Public Officers Law.  (I have underscored the most pertinent section) states:

  • 104. Public notice.  Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.
    1. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be given, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a reasonabl time prior thereto.
    2. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to require publication as a legal notice.
    3. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.
    4. When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time and place of a meeting given in accordance with subdivision one or two of this section, shall also be conspicuously posted on the public body’s internet website.

 

All the other major city boards adhere to this requirement.   They meet on a specific schedule so that members of the public can anticipate when the meetings will occur.  In addition, they post their agendas as part of the notice requirement at least seventy-two hours prior to their meetings so that the public will know when they will meet and what business they will be addressing.

In contrast, the Ethics Board meets on no schedule.  The randomness of their meetings makes it impossible to anticipate when they will gather.  I also happened to discover last June that they did not publish their agenda until the actual day of their meeting nor did they post any other form of notice on the website.

When I inquired of Justin Hogan, the chair of the Ethics Board, why there was no notice of their meeting posted on a timely basis as required by law, he informed me that they post their notices on a bulletin board in city hall.

I subsequently wrote to the Mayor and copied, among others, Mr. Hogan citing the requirement that they post the notice and agenda on the city’s website at least seventy-two hours prior to their meetings.  I included a citation of the law and asked whether there were any extenuating circumstances or if I was somehow misreading the law.  This was in an email dated July 10 (see below).  Neither Mayor Yepsen nor Mr. Hogan responded.

I was interested in how extensive this problem was so I FOILed the city for the agendas of the Ethics Board this year and the dates that these agendas were posted on the city web site (The agendas serving the dual need for both notice of meeting and the business to be transacted).  As the documents below show, every agenda was posted on the date the meeting occurred.    In other words, at a minimum, the Ethics Board failed to issue proper notice to the public at any of its meetings so far this year.

Interestingly, the FOIL also produced a redacted email from Marilyn Rivers who serves on the Ethics Board and works in the city’s Accounts office. In it she states that she “posted our last meeting on the bulletin board.”

Missing from her email is what exactly she posted, which bulletin board she posted whatever it was she posted on, and most importantly, when she posted the item.

It is quite disturbing that a board charged with insuring the ethical standards for our city should not only violate a very important law, but that its chair and the Mayor should refuse to even acknowledge that there is any issue.

Dates Ethics Agendas Were Posted


Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-2
Dates Agendas Were Posted On City Website

 

[Agendas: Note that dates of meetings match dates of postings]

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-4a

 

 

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-5a

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-6a

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-7a

 

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-8a


Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-3

Email To Yepsen et. al.

From:    John Kaufmann []

Sent:     Sunday, July 10, 2016 12:55 PM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc:          ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘John Franck’;

‘Tony Izzo’; ‘Vincent DeLeonardis’; ‘Justin Hogan’

Subject:               Potential Violation Of Open Meetings Law

 

I am writing you regarding an apparent violation of the Open Meetings Law by

the Ethics Board. As confirmed by Justin Hogan, its chair, his Board met on

June 20, 2016. Even as of today, July 9th, there is no record of this meeting on

the City web site, let alone a record of notice to the public that such a meeting

would be convened.

I contacted Mr. Hogan regarding this apparent failure and he responded by

stating that the notice was allegedly “posted” on June 14. In part because he

did not share with me where or how this posting took place, I did visit City

Hall today. There are a number of bulletin boards on the first floor of the

building, and I did find a bulletin board in the City Planning Office with the

title “Meeting Agendas” affixed to it. While it is possible that timely notice of

the meeting was posted on that space, now, some weeks following the Board’s

meeting, there is no such notice on the bulletin board regarding the June 20

meeting. As far as I can tell, there is no record that the June 20 meeting was

ever properly posted so as to give meaningful notice to the public of that

event. Accordingly, would you please inform me by email as to by whom the

notice was posted, and its location(s)?

The following are the requirements for notices to the public of meetings under

Article 7, section 104 of the Public Officers Law. (I have underscored the most

pertinent section):

  • 104. Public notice.
  1. Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one

week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be

conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least

seventy-two hours before such meeting.

  1. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be

given, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be

conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a

reasonable time prior thereto.

  1. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to

require publication as a legal notice.

  1. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice

for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be

used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has

the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.

  1. When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time

and place of a meeting given in accordance with subdivision one

or two of this section, shall also be conspicuously posted on the

public body’s internet website.

Drawing from the above, even if there was documentation to show that a

notice was posted on a bulletin board in City Hall, the statutory

requirement for notices of meetings would not have been met. Based on

my correspondence with Mr. Hogan, it would appear that the Ethics

Board has been violating this provision for some time. While not

venturing a legal opinion here, it is my understanding that any business

transacted at a meeting that lacks proper notice is not valid.

Timing appears rather important here because the Ethics Board is

currently dealing with a controversial inquiry. It would be unfortunate

were the Board to publish an opinion whose authority is undermined by

something as elemental as lack of required public notice, before this

matter is resolved.

Thank you.

 

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8 thoughts on “Ethics Board Routinely Violated Open Meetings Law”

  1. No fear. ” I don’t like rats, but there’s not much else I don’t like. The problem with rats is they have no fear of human beings, they’re loaded with foul diseases, they would run the place given half the chance, and I’ve had them leap out of a lavatory while I’ve been sitting on it.”
    -David Attenborough

    Like

  2. Why was the email written on sat Jul 30 at 7:56pm?

    Why did the City Attorney’s wife reply How shall we proceed with this?

    What happened to page 2 and 3 of this email thread?

    Like

      1. If you turn the image so that it is orientated the way it was printed you will see in the lower right corner of the image of the email is printed 1 of 3. What happened to the other two pages of this email thread?

        It also appears as if this was printed on August 4, 2016 and was provided to you 19 days later to slow the process. In the lower right corner is 8/4/2016 10:32am.

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      2. It appears that there were more than one email on the document. At the bottom there seems to be the header for a reply from Justin Hogan. I think they truncated the document to separate the “relevant” email.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. In paraphrasing David Attenborough: “Rats have no fear.” But these are very special kind of rats: they ‘be’ DemocRATS. (lol)

      Like

      1. No, you have it wrong. You see, in this city, we have three parties: republicans, democrats – and McTygues. The reason for the third party is because no one else wants them.

        Like

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