A meeting between members of the Little Falls Common Council and the Little Falls Family YMCA Board of Directors may have violated open meetings law, according to a state official.
“If a majority of the Common Council was there in their capacity as the Common Council to discuss official city business, the meeting would have been subject to the open meetings law,” Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.
Second Ward Alderman David Burleson raised the question of whether or not the meeting between the Common Council and the YMCA violated the state’s open meetings law during Tuesday evening’s Common Council meeting.
Burleson said at the meeting between the council and the YMCA six aldermen discussed 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 emergency housing properties at 43 Furnace and 544 Garden streets and the Community Co-op at 589 Albany St.
“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.”
First Ward Alderman Jeffrey Gressler said Tuesday evening the Common Council did not call the meeting, but were invited guests of the YMCA Board of Directors.
“Invited guests or not, a quorum of the council was present for the meeting and what was discussed sounds like it falls within the scope of their function as the Common Council,” said Freeman. “There is no basis for excluding the public from that kind of meeting.”
In response to a question of whether having enough members to make a quorum makes for an official meeting, as was raised during Tuesday evening’s meeting, Freeman said if five members of the Common Council were at Wal-Mart at the same time, using the example that was given Tuesday, it would not be subject to the open meetings law.
“Just having enough members to make a quorum doesn’t make it a meeting,” he said. “If there are 100 people in a room and five of the eight Common Council members are there, it would not be subject to the open meetings law. That’s different from meeting with members of another body to discuss official city business.”
Freeman added it was his opinion notice of the meeting should have been given.
Page 2 of 2 - “It sounds like the meeting should have been conducted in public,” he said.
The Common Council has scheduled a meeting for Monday at 5 p.m. in the Common Council chambers at City Hall. The agenda will include discussion on the ongoing lawsuit with the Little Falls Family YMCA and personnel, according to a notice.
“The resolution that was passed by the council to have the city withdraw from the lawsuit will not be invalidated or voided,” said Mayor Robert Peters during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “The resolution was passed during a regular session of the Common Council, so it falls outside of what happed at the illegal meeting. The resolution will stand as it was adopted by an 8-0 vote. That’s based on the opinion I was given.”
After receiving an opinion from an attorney for the New York Conference of Mayors Wednesday afternoon, Peters did not immediately know what effect, if any, the discussions during a potential illegal meeting would have on Resolution No. 18.
Freeman said had the action been taken at an illegal meeting, the action could have been declared invalid. The council would have voted to pass the resolution again, he said.