The recent interest regarding the new majority of the Farmersville Town Board’s alleged violation of the open meetings law, for meeting with an attorney prior to the Jan. 6 meeting, is astonishing.
If not exempt, the OML applies to a quorum meeting of a public body discussing public business. However, two OML exemptions apply — any matter made “confidential” by law and same-party political committee deliberations, like caucuses, without regard to the discussed matters.
Not all members of the same political party who are on the board need to be invited or present for caucus, which can seek legal advice. The incoming majority are same-political-party members who ran together on a common platform against the other two board members.
Attorney-client relationships are “confidential” under law (second exemption).
The Farmersville Town Board’s incoming majority is facing a hostile situation, with the other two members adverse to their political platform. Two of the new majority have never held office and one was responsible for conducting the Jan. 6 meeting — Supervisor Pete Lounsbury. The Farmersville town clerk, Bridget Holmes, is also hostile to the new majority’s “citizen protection agenda,” despite her claims to the contrary.
How does one properly convene a meeting, propose resolutions, draft proposed laws and seek advice on how to handle disruptions without proper legal advice? Invenergy attorneys Daniel Spitzer and Charles Malcomb have been disruptive at town board meetings.
Alle-Catt project proponents are now deeply interested in alleged open-meeting violations of the new Farmersville board majority? This is laughable when the prior board repeatedly violated the OML while aggressively carrying out Invenergy’s Alle-Catt agenda — against the wishes of the majority of their electorate.
Many documents were received through the Freedom of Information Law and otherwise that demonstrate the collusion of the prior board with Invenergy, including shocking emails. Former Freedom Town Attorney James McAuley also stated in writing that he and Invenergy lawyer Spitzer agreed to only communicate orally — thus hiding communications from the public. McAuley also claims to have no emails responsive to FOIL and to have deleted his emails. Yet, responsive emails were discovered by citizens.
Former Farmersville Supervisor Robert Karcher wrote that to avoid FOIL he would not be forwarding his email communications with Invenergy to the other prior board members. Karcher also stated to the new supervisor (who upon taking office discovered that the supervisor’s computer was wiped clean) that he deleted emails due to the fact that the communications were on his “private email” and not to “start trouble.”
No privacy exists in private email addresses when they are used to conduct public business. This is a violation of FOIL and deleting is “spoliation” of evidence, as the board was subject to an August “litigation hold” letter from attorney Gary Abraham. The need for the incoming majority to seek legal advice is apparent.
Where were Alle-Catt proponents’ concerns when the prior Farmersville board was running roughshod over citizens’ rights and the law, or when the prior board’s financial interests in the project failed to be timely disclosed to the public, as required? Legal bills from the prior attorney detail a cozy Invenergy relationship and meetings purposely designed to avoid open meetings requirements.
Where was board member Pamela Tilton’s outrage about “things being rushed” and “being listened to,” while the board was galvanized by Invenergy to pass an Alle-Catt-friendly wind law in August — AFTER the electorate spoke in the primary election? Where was this concern when the prior board signed premature, shoddy and inadequate road-use and host-community agreements in September?
These actions by lame-duck board members, some with project financial interests, were undertaken to subjugate the will of the electorate represented by the incoming board majority. Now, Tilton tells the Olean Times Herald she wishes to be “listened to” and for things to slow down? Shameful.
The Farmersville board majority was elected on a public referendum mandate against the Alle-Catt project’s lack of protections and the inadequacy of the prior board’s wind law respecting resident health, safety and welfare. The highest votes were cast for the new majority in a record turnout. That speaks volumes.
The current complaints from project proponents, Tilton and those like her are outrageous.
Citizens were clamoring for a vigorous discussion on ethics and transparency last year, but the prior board’s misdeeds did not fit the pro-Alle-Catt project narrative of Invenergy and the project proponents. These bad acts were conveniently ignored by the likes of Tilton, while the legal activity of the current board majority is now scrutinized and criticized.
The irony is palpable.
(Ginger Schroder is an attorney, Farmersville resident and newly-seated member of the Cattaraugus County Legislature.)