Government

Patel Claims Town Violated Open Meetings Law; Grace Denies Allegations

dfca1c8bdcf6f81eae19_84626d8a00527a090a71_Grace_Patel.jpg
dfca1c8bdcf6f81eae19_84626d8a00527a090a71_Grace_Patel.jpg

YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Yorktown Councilman Vishnu Patel is alleging his colleagues violated the New York State Open Meetings Law by discussing staffing issues in private, directly contradicting directives handed down earlier in the week by a state judge.

The incident occurred just days after a New York State Supreme Court appearance in which Judge Linda Jamieson gave a warning to Town Attorney Mike McDermott that any discussion of creating a new town position could not be held in private. Patel says that’s exactly what the Town Board did on Thursday, Jan. 28, in the first of its four scheduled closed meetings (executive sessions), which were created to conduct performance reviews of employees in every town department.

“For example, they discussed creating the new position of a deputy town engineer, a staffing issue Justice Jamieson specifically told the town attorney had to be conducted in open session,” Patel said. “They also discussed the Depot Square project and how a deputy town engineer could work on the project.”

Sign Up for E-News

Earlier this month, the Town Board accepted the resignation of acting town engineer Sharon Robinson and agreed, by a unanimous vote, that it would seek applications for a new engineer and a deputy town engineer. Robinson had been a consultant for the town and the two new positions would be in-house.

The board also scheduled four additional meetings expected to be held in private on Jan. 28, Feb. 3, Feb. 11 and Feb. 17. The board can hold meetings in private if they deal with particular employees, according to the New York State Open Meetings Law.

Skeptical the board would be discussing only performance reviews, former Yorktown councilwoman and supervisor Susan Siegel filed a petition to have the meetings opened. She believed the board would in fact be discussing staffing issues, including the two new possible positions in the engineering department. These discussions would have to be held in public, Siegel argued, because they directly affect the budget and Yorktown taxpayers. Judge Jamieson agreed.

“That is open for discussion before the community,” Jamieson told McDermott on Jan. 26, according to the official court transcript. “Because it will add jobs, it will impact the budget, and it will have a direct effect upon the citizens of Yorktown.”

The first meeting was held Jan. 28 in the supervisor’s office at Town Hall. Patel, the lone Democrat on the board, did not attend the court appearance but said he was aware of Jamieson’s verbal directive. Once the topic of staffing allegedly came up about two-and-a-half hours into the closed-door meeting, Patel said he left in protest.

“I walked out of the executive session in protest after having advised the other board members, and the town attorney, that they were discussing subjects that, by law, could not be discussed in executive session and which were not discussions of the employment history of particular persons,” Patel said.

Supervisor Michael Grace denies the discussion about hiring a deputy town engineer took place and told Yorktown News that Patel was simply looking for a “gotcha” moment. He said the allegations are “completely manufactured” and accused Patel of “political gamesmanship.”

“We painstakingly went over what the ground rules for these meetings were,” Grace said. “No decisions were made. They are going to be fact-finding work sessions to get an idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of all the individuals of each particular department.”

He said Patel revealing anything discussed in executive session is a “breach of confidentially,” and said he will be looking into the legal ramifications of Patel’s statement to the media.

“It’s not appropriate for him to share information that was discussed in an executive session,” Grace said. “It’s terrible for morale of the employees to think their performance evaluations are going to be open to public scrutiny. That’s a complete breach of the public trust.”

Patel said his statements are not a violation of the law.

“I take my oath as an elected official to uphold the law seriously,” Patel said. “There is no prohibition in law that prevents me from letting my constituents know that certain subjects were discussed by their elected officials behind closed doors in violation of the Open Meetings Law. For a discussion to be considered ‘confidential,’ it must specifically be exempted from public disclosure by state or federal statute.”

McDermott, however, said Patel is wrong and that the New York State Open Meetings Law strictly prohibits public disclosure of any discussions in closed session.

“The employees of the town must have confidence that anything said by them or about them in connection with their employment will be held confidential,” McDermott said. “No Town Board member has the authority to decide which statements made in executive session are confidential or not confidential.”

Meanwhile, Grace accused Patel and Siegel of working together, saying that Siegel is Patel’s “puppetmaster.” He also criticized Siegel for what he said was a “complete waste of town staff time and resources” by taking Yorktown to court last week.

“It seems Ms. Siegel cannot accept she is no longer on the Town Board,” Grace said. “After years of pedantic criticisms, which only served to drag matters out to an inch of their demise, Siegel objects to additional work sessions to do the necessary work of the town.”

Siegel, however, said the real “waste of town resources” would be if Yorktown had to defend itself against a lawsuit from violating the Open Meetings Law.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Yorktown

Cuomo’s Frivolous Lawsuits Cost Us Money

Since Donald Trump became president, New York State has filed more than 100 lawsuits against the federal government. This includes those filed by both Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It does not include lawsuits filed by the City of New York. Most of them are political in nature, filed to please the plaintiffs’ voting base. In the real world, if we had filed ...

Live and Learn

When I was a senior at Fordham University (1970), the school initiated an experimental program allowing a small number of seniors to teach a professor-assisted accredited pass/fail course. I applied and to my amazement was one of three students selected. The course I taught was titled Philosophy of Education.

The underlying theory of my course was that every educational system has an ...

A Trip to the 'Liberry'

Raise your hand if you didn’t—did not—call the library the “liberry” when you were little. I’m guessing not a lot of hands just went up.

Didn’t just about all of us say “liberry” when we were learning to read? (Well, whaddya expect when a place is named something way too easy for little kids to mispronounce?)

OK. Now, raise your hand if ...

I'm Mrs. Heat Miser

To be perfectly honest, I did not need a large rodent with insomnia to convince me that we had six more weeks of winter. It’s been so cold outside lately that when I go out, my nostrils stick together. The dog is so hesitant to go out that he does his business right on the deck, less than five feet from the door, and then gives me a look of contemptuous indignation when he comes back in the ...

Should Valentine's Day Be Celebrated at School?

Dear Dr. Linda,

I’ve been a third-grade teacher for over 20 years and have never allowed my students to celebrate Valentine’s Day in my class. I know my colleagues think I’m mean, but I’m refusing to celebrate it for many reasons.

1) Children hand out cards to each other and there’s always some child left out or who gets very few; 2) Children are always asked ...

What Next for Sober Houses?

February 7, 2018

To the editor,

As Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

As reported in the Jan. 25 edition of Yorktown News, 482 Underhill Ave. is back in the sober house business, this time operating as a “family,” not a convalescent, home. And because it’s operating as a family home, there are no town regulations, standards, guidelines ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, February 22, 7:00 PM

NY Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, Cortlandt Manor

Book Club for Women with Cancer

Health & Wellness

Sat, February 24, 10:00 AM

Jefferson Valley Mall , Yorktown Heights

Yorktown Indoor Farmers Market

Food & Drink Health & Wellness

Sat, February 24, 12:00 PM

Club Fit, Jefferson Valley

Yoga for Women with Cancer

Health & Wellness

First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown Receives GreenFaith Certification

February 16, 2018

The First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown has completed the requirements for GreenFaith certification (www.greenfaith.org). GreenFaith is an organization which helps religious communities grow in environmental leadership. GreenFaith certification was a two year process that required a number of accomplishments in the areas of stewardship, education, worship, environmental justice advocacy, and ...