The state Committee on Open Government will host a forum on transparency in the wake of a lawsuit filed by two residents alleging systematic failure to comply with Open Meetings Law.
On June 27, Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, will host a public information session on both Freedom of Information Law, FOIL, and Open Meetings Law in the village of Mamaroneck.
The forum will provide information to the public on what types of records are accessible through FOIL—which can be used to obtain documents from governmental agencies and organizations—and will also offer training for members of the village Board of Trustees and other village staff in attendance on how and why they are allowed to exclude the public from certain deliberations.
A decision to host a forum, which according to Trustee Victor Tafur, a Democrat, came from the village’s Democratic Party, comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by residents Stuart Tiekert and Sue McCrory alleging multiple violations of Open Meetings Law.
The lawsuit alleges board members violated Open Meetings Law by convening closed executive sessions without proper cause and forced residents to leave meetings that they claim should have been open to the public.
Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to mandate transparency law training to both village staff and elected officials.
According to Nora Lucas, the chairwoman of the village’s Democratic Party and candidate for village trustee this year, the event is being held for a tandem of reasons; one, she explained, is an uptick in public interest.
“We decided to hold an Open Meetings [Law] training in part because there were a lot of question regarding [it],” said Lucas, “[Tiekert] and [McCrory’s] lawsuit being part of that.”
Lucas said sentiments from residents who have expressed interest in transparency laws may stem from a feeling that they have been obstructed in their efforts to obtain documents.
“If you’ve been stymied by some organization, then you think more thoroughly about it,” she said.
Additionally, Lucas explained that the forum and training will also act as a measure of housekeeping for new members of village boards—including land use boards who are subject to Open Meetings Law—who may never have received training.
“Boards that have publicly noticed meetings could benefit from this,” she said.
In 2016, the village board Democratic ticket—which included current trustees Leon Potok, Tafur, and Keith Waitt—ran on a platform of increased government transparency, touting initiatives like the digitization of Building Department records which are now available to the public.
Even despite the training session scheduled for the end of this month, Tiekert said he is still unsatisfied with the village’s response to his and [McCrory’s] suit.
“The board seems to be in a heavy state of denial, believing that they comply with open meetings law,” Tiekert said. “The first step to rectifying a problem is recognizing it.”
Potok said he will be away during the training and cannot attend, but added that he has received the training in the past. Waitt said he is “hoping to try to make” the session.
Rosenblum said he would be out of state during the forum.