Newsmaker of the month: Abusing executive sessions

Cartoon by Edward Gallivan/ Silver Creek

Fredonia’s Maureen Blackburn and Michelene Comerford are two residents who have one thing in common: they do not appreciate — or accept — executive sessions. Both, at school and village meetings, have spoken out about the happenings.

Blackburn has been more vocal recently, especially when the Fredonia Board of Education decided to go behind closed doors to discuss four potential candidates for an open seat, vacated by Daniel Ihasz. “The process now undertaken by the (Fredonia school board) will negate all elements of a publicly held process for this opening,” she said at the Aug. 6 meeting. “While the discussion and appointment is the privilege of the board, all review of and the selection process/interviews are open to public.”

All too often, it is easy for any public board to explain away executive sessions. The problem this news outlet has — as does the rest of the community — is there are far too many taxpaying, governing entities who get away with this in a community of 50,000 residents.

Last month, OBSERVER reporter Jo Ward simply stated when New York state law allows for executive sessions by public boards. They include:

• Matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed.

• Any matter which may disclose the identity of a law enforcement agency or informer.

• Information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed.

• Discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation.

• Collective negotiations pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law (the Taylor Law).

• The medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.

• The preparation, grading or administration of examinations.

• The proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.

Notice nowhere in these cases does it note discussion of potential board members — or the most common excuse offered, of personnel. It has to be specifically clarified.

And when boards state their attorney told them it was OK to be in executive session, remember this: that attorney works for the board, not the taxpayer.