The Public’s Right to Know

The Summit  Common Council voted 5 to 2 on November 3rd to condone what the Union County Prosecutor termed a potential criminally indictable offense and abuse of power by a Councilman.  In doing so, they as a body acknowledged that  they had violated the Opening Public Meetings Act.  I regard the censure vote as a badge of courage.

Getzendanner allegedly wanted a city employee to back date a late fee on a license.    He admitted doing this in a closed session meeting, but now claims he was just having “fun” with the employee.  Why would an employee make this up? This employee was so concerned that she went to the City Administrator who was so concerned he went to the Union County Prosecutor.    All of this was relayed to Dave Bomgaars who withheld this from Council and the public and then when confronted denied he knew anything about it.  That is until he was shown a letter in which he was cc’d.   When you are truthful  facts are easy to recall.  When you are not, you have to remember what you said and to whom.  One fact is undeniable:  the Council and the public never saw the documents in question.  Cover ups can be more serious than the crime.

I am an absolute believer that governing bodies should make every effort to discuss matters in open session, not the converse; sadly, not an opinion shared by this Council.  Moreover, if you discuss a non-confidential matter in closed session, you cannot hide behind the sanctity of the Closed Session.  The City Solicitor made it very clear in the Closed Session of November 3rdthat discussions regarding the employee were permissible in a closed session, but discussions regarding Councilman Getzendanner were NOT.   Lastly, issues discussed in closed session must be made public when the issue is no longer of a confidential nature.  In other words, you cannot and should not hide behind “closed session.”

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I objected to the discussion regarding Getzendanner in the September Closed Session as inappropriate, a position opposed by Bomgaars .  I requested copies of the documents and was again refused same.   At the Council meeting on November 3rd, he denied that he refused to give me the documents, but the fact remains I never got them.   He then stated that Council “voted” not to take any action against Getzendanner at this Closed Session.   I responded that Council cannot take any action in Closed Session, all votes must be taken at open meetings.   So, Bomgaars effectively acknowledged that Council, not me, violated the “Closed Session” laws with an illegal vote.

My press releasecame after the September Closed Session Meeting.   Five councilpersons believe it is appropriate to withhold abuse of power and alleged misconduct of an elected official from the public.  Mayor Glatt, Councilman Murphy and I disagree.  The censure alleged that I violated closed session.  The City Solicitor said I did not.   But even if you assumed that it was a matter for closed session, when Council illegally voted not to take any action, the matter was then disposed of and therefore was no longer of a confidential matter and should have been made available immediately to the public.  The fact that at least the documents were made public confirms this.   

One final point –we normally get our packets on the Thursday, which contains the agenda and the resolutions for the upcoming meeting.    On occasion, last minute resolutions are introduced but they always appear at our seats in closed session.  This resolution did not.  Why?  Because this was a cowardly attempt to discredit legitimate facts that were withheld from the public.   Worse than that, withholding pending resolution denies the public their right to review and comment on that matter before the vote.   Moreover, this resolution was introduced by Councilman Madden despite being told at the closed session prior to the meeting that the Getzendanner issue was not an appropriate closed session subject.  So Council broke the law, not I.   There is nothing more important than transparency in government and nothing worse than cover ups.

 

 

  

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

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