Note: This summary covers two meetings: October 2, 2015 and October 6, 2015
October 2, 2015
Special Town Board Meeting
Special note: As a member of the Board, I was heavily involved in the meeting. What follows is, I hope, as balanced a summary as can be written by a participant who was accused by the Supervisor of making incorrect statements during the meeting. As the subject of the meeting has been covered by the town’s two newspapers, this will only be a brief summary.
Supervisor Grace called this special meeting to discuss the use of three town email lists (Public Notice, Public Agenda, Parks & Recreation) by Councilman Patel to send an email blast that was critical of the Supervisor’s proposed $4.8 million highway garage project. I stated that the majority of the addresses used in the email blast came from a purchased list.
Initially, the Supervisor said the lists were obtained “surreptitiously” and that Councilman Patel had possibly “hacked’ into the town’s computer system to obtain them. He subsequently acknowledged that the email addresses had been obtained legally from a FOIL request. He then charged that the email addresses, although obtained legally, were used illegally because they were not to be used for solicitations. He also said that Councilman Patel had invaded the privacy of town residents, had violated the public trust, and misused town resources for political purposes. He also spoke briefly about the highway garage project, challenging the accuracy of what Councilman wrote in the email message.
Both Councilman Patel and I denied the charges that the email blast was illegal. I read excerpts from two advisory opinions on the use of email addresses written by Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the NYS Committee on Open Government that stated that the release of the email addresses was not an invasion of personal privacy and that when town email addresses were used by candidates for political office to communicate with residents, and even to seek support for their candidacy, they were not “soliciting” within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Law. Supervisor Grace dismissed Mr. Freeman’s opinions, despite acknowledging that he was the state’s expert on the Freedom of Information Law.
The Supervisor said he would draft an apology “letter” (although he meant an email) for what he called the misuse of the town’s email lists and said he expected Councilman Patel to make his list available for the purpose.
After about an 1½ hour exchange that was politically charged, Supervisor Grace proposed two resolutions: one in which members of the Board pledged not to use the town’s email addresses for political purposes and a second that said something about not using town resources for political purposes. When the Supervisor made a motion and I asked that the wording of the resolution be read aloud by the clerk so Board members knew exactly what they were voting on, Supervisor Grace said that wasn’t necessary and the vote proceeded;. The motion passed 3-2 with Councilman Patel and I voting against it.
(Note: as recorded in the Clerk’s minutes, the resolution reads: “Pledge, not to use the information obtained from the Town’s email lists in a political campaign.”)
Town Board Meeting
October 6, 2015
1. Police issue/Mohegan Lake and Shrub Oak
Police Chief McMahon advised the community that over the past 18 months the department has received complaints about a person taking photographs. He said that while residents may be uneasy about this, the person is not breaking any law or committing any violation by taking photos on public streets. The intended use of the photos is not an issue. If and when the person is in a public space on private property, e.g., a shopping center, the owner of the center could tell the person he was not welcome on the property; this has happened in two instances and the photographer has not returned to those locations. If the photogrpahs include individuals and they are used for commercial purposes, then permission from the person photographed would be needed.
Supervisor Grace spoke for about 15 minutes in defense of his proposed highway garage project and stating that Councilman Patel’s information was incorrect. I responded, refuting some of the supervisor’s comments but added that the board meeting was not the time or place for a full discussion of the issue. (Note: this summary will not go into detail on the pros and cons of the issue or comments by residents during Courtesy of the Floor.)
3. Email issue (see above)
Three Republican district leaders spoke out against Councilman Patel’s use of the town email lists. Supervisor Grace also was critical of the use, dismissing the advisory opinions of Robert Freeman. There was no attempt at a revote on Friday’s resolution or a vote on any apology letter/email.
4. Lakeshore Drive Wetlands Permit/Reconvened Public Hearing
(See Town Board, 7-21-2015.) In response to comments made at the July public hearing, the applicant has made several revisions to the plan including a stormwater management and maintenance plan and a mitigation plan. The new measures will decrease the flow of phosphorous into the lake. The applicant has also agreed to a 75 foot conservation easement on either side of the property from the lake up to the area behind the house; the easement will be delineated by boulders. In a last minute change, the applicant agreed to cut only about 6 or 7 dead, diseased or hazardous trees in the conservation easement, a decrease from the original plan that called for cutting 13 trees.
The applicant and other board members rejected by suggestion that the easement document include a penalty provision in the event that additional non diseased trees were cut down in the future; their argument was that there was sufficient language in the easement to cite the property owner with a violation notice in the event this happened.
It was also explained that because the Zoning Board had approved a variance for the property in 1981 that set the size of the allowed building footprint, the Town Board was obligated to grant the wetlands permit or else compensate the owner for not allowing him to use his property.
The hearing was closed and the permit unanimously approved. After the vote, I urged concerned residents to monitor the property to make sure that the conditions of the permit were followed.
5. Textile and E-Waste Recycling
Kim Angliss Gage, head of the Refuse and Recycling Department announced that there would be both textile and E-Waste recycling drop offs at the department’s headquarters behind the police department on Oct 13 and Oct 16.
6. Auction of town property
An auction will be held on November 14 at Town Hall to auction off five vacant parcels and two single family residences. The properties were acquired by foreclosure.
7. Open Space parcels
This item was taken off the agenda for more discussion.