Officials and residents continue to voice frustration at what they see as a lack of progress a month after the Little Falls Common Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the litigation between the city and the local YMCA be mutually withdrawn.
“We sit here four weeks after the Common Council voted 8-0 urging the city to withdraw the litigation and we still do not know where we stand,” said First Ward Alderman Jeffrey Gressler at Tuesday evening’s Common Council meeting. “It’s frustrating because petitions were presented to the Common Council signed by some 1,500 people, including 1,100 city residents, and we believed they sent a clear message that the YMCA is an integral part of the community. This whole thing has created a lot of discord.”
The lawsuit concerns whether three YMCA-owned properties — emergency and income housing at 43 Furnace and 544 Garden streets and a Community Co-op that provides natural and specialty foods at discount prices at 589 Albany St. — should be tax exempt.
The resolution passed by the Common Council stated it is the council’s belief the expenditure is not a “wise use of our resources, and that it will serve no ultimate benefit to the city, and could endanger the availability of programs and services of the YMCA.”
“I have lawyers on both sides of the issue telling me what to sign and what not sign and I am to the point where I no longer know who to listen to,” Mayor Robert Peters said Tuesday evening. “The city has ended its pursuit of the lawsuit, but I am not going to sign anything that ties the hands of the next mayor or the next Common Council. At one time I thought we had something that was agreeable to the city and the YMCA, but that was changed from a four-paragraph agreement to an agreement with about 16 clauses.”
Peters said during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon he would not sign any agreement after receiving an opinion from the New York Conference of Mayors that the six Common Council members who met with members of the YMCA Board of Directors at the Little Falls Senior Center to discuss how to end the conflict did so illegally.
Second Ward Alderman David Burleson raised the question Tuesday evening and said at the meeting the six council members discussed briefly and came to a general agreement among themselves that they should vote to defund the assessor’s ability to pursue the YMCA for taxes on the housing properties and the Community Co-op.
“At the following Common Council meeting we voted 8-0 to do just that. Since that vote I have realized we may have acted improperly,” said Burleson. “The charter explains that all meetings of the Common Council must be open to the public and that a majority of aldermen shall constitute a quorum. With eight members of the council, five makes a quorum. The meeting with the YMCA was held with the best of intentions, but I recently realized we may have violated the city charter without knowing it.”
Page 2 of 2 - “The resolution to end the lawsuit was passed during a regular meeting of the Common Council, but it was first discussed during an illegal meeting so I am unsure what, if any, effect that determination will have on everything,” said Peters Wednesday afternoon.
He said before proceeding further the city would seek a legal opinion.|
“The resolution may be null and void, but it could also be a case where the Common Council could simply reintroduce the resolution and adopt it again. Until the city has received an opinion on how to proceed I am not going to take any action or sign any agreement,” said Peters. “I do not want to do anything to harm the city.”
The state’s Open Meetings Law defines a meeting as the “official convening of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business.” A public body is “any entity for which a quorum is required in order to conduct public business,” according to the law.
City councils are listed as being subject to the requirements of the open meetings law, which states meetings held by public bodies “must be open to the general public” and that the body “must accord access (including media access) to every meeting.”
The law also states action take by public bodies that fail to comply with the law may be invalidated, in whole or in part, and that members of the public body may be required to participate in a training session concerning the obligations of the open meetings law.
“The YMCA and the city grew up together. Instead of celebrating a 100th anniversary, the YMCA is having to focus on this and the financial strain it is causing,” Little Falls Family YMCA board member Bart Carrig said Tuesday evening. “This issue is dividing the city and the only way to end that divide is to end the litigation. It’s time to end this bad idea."