Editor's Note: This article has been updated from its print version to more accurately reflect the judge's decision.
YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The town board did not violate any laws regarding the creation and approval of a new tree law, a State Supreme Court justice has determined.
Resident Susan Siegel, a former town supervisor and councilwoman, had alleged the board erred by closing last year’s Sept. 20 public hearing, then altering the law and voting on it, denying the public a chance to comment on the amended version of the law.
Justice Barbara Zambelli, however, said the changes the board made before approving the law were not substantial and did not require a new public hearing, as Siegel alleged.
Siegel also alleged that the town board held a public hearing on the wrong version of the draft tree law. Zambelli also dismissed that accusation, saying it was based on speculation and not substantiated by facts.
Despite the dismissal, Zambelli noted that a transcript of the meeting contradicts the town board’s minutes from Sept. 20, 2016. The transcript states that the board closed the hearing then amended the law. The minutes, however, said the law was amended prior to the hearing being closed.
Though the transcript "conclusively establishes" the timeline of events, according to Zambelli, she ultimately determined a new public hearing was not required.
This is the second time in 18 months that a Siegel-initiated lawsuit against the town board has been dismissed. In January 2016, Siegel accused the board of making staffing decisions behind closed doors.
“This latest court dismissal of Siegel’s challenge to a town board action is yet another example that Siegel is intent on wasting taxpayers’ money with frivolous behavior and conduct,” said Town Attorney Michael J. McDermott.
Siegel filed her latest lawsuit in December 2016 and, three months later, the court dismissed five of the eight causes of action. The remaining three causes were dismissed on June 22.
Zambelli, in her decision, said the amendments made to the tree law were not substantial and resulted from comments made by the public.
“The three amendments were a small part of a large, complicated legislation that underwent extensive public review,” Zambelli wrote.
Siegel, in her response, said, “It’s not frivolous when the town board doesn’t follow the law.” Though she disagrees that the changes were not “substantial,” she said, she will not appeal the judge’s decision.
“My claim was that the town board proposed and adopted amendments to the law after it closed the hearing in violation of the law,” Siegel said. “The judge agreed but disagreed over whether the amendments were substantial enough to invalidate the law. The amendments were substantial because they infringed on a homeowner’s property rights and homeowners didn’t get a chance to comment on the proposed amendments which is the purpose of a public hearing.”
The amendments were: the introduction of 18-month time restrictions on two of the activities that require a permit for the removal of 10 or more protected trees, and the addition of the words “as a part of an agricultural activity” to a list of items exempt from the law.