This letter will serve as a response to the Letter to the Editor by David Witkowich in connection with the town’s policy on use of the town board room. As an initial matter, I reject the letter’s sensationalist headline that “Yorktown slams shut town hall doors.”
When I was appointed as town attorney in January 2016, one of my tasks was to review town legislation and policies. My goal was to ensure that the town legislation was correct and modernized to accommodate the needs of the town and its citizens. I also addressed the town’s policies to be certain that the town was properly protected.
One of the town’s policies that I reviewed was the use of the town board room by the general public. I learned that the board room was allowed to be used by members of the public seven days a week during a wide variety of hours at no cost and without the requirement for insurance.
Such a practice was very troubling to me since the board room was used during the late evenings and weekends when there is no staff in attendance to monitor the activities.
Remarkably, during a recent town board meeting courtesy of the floor session, Susan Siegel admitted that the very same issue was raised with her when she was the town supervisor many years ago. However, rather than allow the important matter to languish on a dormant “to do” list, I undertook a careful review of the policy.
My initial position was to prohibit the use of the board room unless there was a town staff employee present in the building. However, upon reflection, I realized that such a policy would severely limit access to the board room.
In attempting to strike the appropriate balance between open access to the board room and insulating the town from liability, I determined that the town should require insurance from the users, naming the town as an additionally named insured with adequate policy limits. Indeed, such practice would be entirely consistent with the requirements the town currently employs for people and organizations using other town facilities.
Others have suggested that the town offer a tenant-related insurance policy. However, such a tenant policy would encumber the town with potential liability for a private event and would be an illegal gift of public funds.
Once I completed the review and revised the Town Board Room Reservation Form, I made the recommendation to the town board, which unanimously agreed with me and implemented the policy requiring insurance as well as a modest $25 usage fee.
For Mr. Witkowich to state, insinuate or imply that somehow the policy is a new issue and is directed at certain people or organizations is preposterous and frankly unsupported by the circumstances.
Town Hall remains open and available for use.