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Board's Actions at 'Special Meeting' Criticized

Tom Lamberti, a former village trustee, slams trustees for poor governance.

The discussion started with a simple question: "Was this fire report discussed in executive session?"

First Street resident Tom Lamberti was referring to the 85-page anaylsis of the village's fire services provided by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) when he asked that of the village board Thursday.

"No. N-O," mayor Don Brudie said.

The board called a special board meeting July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Garden City Public Library in executive session to discuss a matter of litigation. According to draft minutes of the meeting, the executive session concluded at 9:55 p.m. at which time the board reconvened in open session.

Trustees unanimously accepted the report at this time, on motion by trustee Dennis Donnelly. (Deputy mayor John Watras was not present at this meeting.)

Also carried unanimously was another motion made by Donnelly to direct village administrator Robert Schoelle to refer the report to the volunteer chiefs to implement recommendation 8 regarding dispatching through Firecom and provide input to the board on implementing recommendation 6 regarding staffing.

Though the board said the discussion did not take place during executive session Lamberti found the whole thing peculiar.

"To call a meeting on such short notice to discuss litigation to suddenly morph into a discussion of a very important report dealing with the fire department and how it operates on a Monday night in August at 9 o'clock ... and adopt resolution I find that rather unique," he said.

Lamberti said matters of such significant public policy should be discussed at a regular meeting because the public has a right to hear what the board has to say. "I would caution you that is not good governmental practice," he said.

Village counsel Gary Fishberg said the meeting was "legally called."

"You can't go into executive session without a special meeting being called," he explained. "Once the meeting is called and the board adjourns to executive session it is deemed a meeting of the board. You come out of the executive meeting to conduct any business the board feels it needs to conduct, which it did after that executive meeting ... It has a right, if it calls a special meeting, to conduct such other business as it deems necessary."

The law also requires that the media be notified of a special meeting. Patch learned of the meeting on Friday, July 27, via email.

Lamberti argued that trustees could've waited until Thursday's regular board meeting to discuss the report. "Nothing needed to be done immediately. That dispatching service has been out there for years so don't tell me that that had to happen July 30," he said. "I think from a public point of view and a matter of good government when you have a special meeting of litigation you deal with the litigation. You don't come out of the litigation and discuss something entirely different, which you could've discussed tonight. I dont think that's good government. I may be a voice of one but that's my voice."

Judy Courtney, president of the Eastern Property Owners' Association, asked the board for a timeline so residents could have an idea of when trustees will be ready to discuss the report. "Firehouses are always a big issue," she said. "I don't think people want to feel it's something they've missed."

Trustee Nick Episcopia via email told Patch Friday that when the board of trustees decides on a course of action, he feels that this should be presented to the public with a clear explanation of the board's reasoning.

"Whether this will be in a public meeting or through Village Facts and press releases has not yet been decided," he said. "I believe my colleagues on the BOT will certainly agree with this approach. No firm decisions have been made yet."

Do you agree with Mr. Lamberti? Let us know in the comments.

GCBob August 18, 2012 at 01:53 PM
From what I'm reading here it seems a question of timing with regard to the fire report. A special board meeting was called for Monday, July 30 at 7:30 P.M. at the Garden City Public Library, where the Board of Trustees discussed a matter of litigation in executive session. They concluded their executive session at 9:55 P.M. at which time the board reconvened in open session during which they unanimously accepted the report. They also unanimously accepted a motion to direct the village administrator to refer the report to the volunteer chiefs to implement recommendation eight and to provide input to the board on implementing recommendation six of this fire report. I cannot see how the board can conclude executive session and immediately and unanimously accept the report and implementation of recommendation eight without them having first discussed it at some length during their closed session. I am sure that because of the late hour of the open session that no public representation was present. I agree with Mr. Lamberti that it would seem that the public was sidestepped when the board made their decision and the term "open government" seems to be lacking from the conversation.

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