I suspect something sinister is going on

To the Editor:

Mary Ann Ronconi’s thought-provoking letter to the Enterprise editor on July 30 touches on the discussion of the inappropriate use of tax dollars for political purposes. A law firm could have plenty to gain, stirring up work for itself depending on how the lawyers are being paid.

As I recall, for example, board member [Mathew] Harris has implied that multiple lawyers investigated the state records regarding the documentation of a town law to establish the Berne Planning Board. But others say the records from that era would be hard copies and are not accessible during the pandemic.

I am not confident I understand why the search of unavailable records would require multiple lawyers and I don’t understand how they would be paid. I recall no town board discussion of how this law firm with hundreds of lawyers would be paid.

I have seen no documentation of any correspondence between a lawyer on behalf of the town of Berne or a New York State employee regarding this records search. I suspect something sinister is going on when I see things done without documentation and outside Open Meetings Law guidance. Also, my personal experience with this law firm informs my opinion of its political bias.

In my opinion, based on my experience with the new town attorney, it appears he is representing the best interests of the Berne GOP organization at taxpayers’ expense. It appears the GOP found a lawyer who would make its political goals his priority.

They also, in my opinion, found someone who would publicly misinform Berne residents to set up an “executive session” situation under false pretenses where I could, yet again, be harassed and intimidated behind closed doors.

If one visits the New York State Committee on Open Government website, frequently asked questions are provided regarding the Open Meetings Law and executive sessions. According to that guidance, “Citing Personnel matters is not sufficient ground for going into an executive session.” 

But at 19:31:20 on the April 29 2020 meeting video (hidden as it is incorrectly posted on the Berne website as “Public Hearing on Proposed LL 4”) Attorney Javid Afzali advises Deputy Supervisor Palow that under OML (Open Meetings Law) his motion to go into executive session to discuss “Personal Matters” is allowed. During another attempt at the same motion, the attorney corrects him and says “Personnel Matters” (19:31:50).

I am not a lawyer, but based on my interpretation of the guidance on the Committee on Open Government website, a motion to go into executive session based on a discussion of “personnel matters” is an insufficient reason at best.

But what is really sinister here, in my opinion, is that this inappropriate declaration was also not at all true and the attorney was very aware of what was going to be discussed because he explained the very flawed GOP strategy to have me removed from office after publicly humiliating me.

I was repeatedly declared “guilty” and I was ridiculed by board members [Dennis] Palow, Harris, and [Sean] Lyons during this “executive session.” I asked that the session be recorded, and they stopped recording part way through their attack.

If the motion to go into an executive session had been truthful and accurate, it would have stated “… To harass, ridicule, and falsely declare guilty an independently elected town representative.” You see, I am not personnel; they were not discussing personnel matters — and that is insufficient reason for an executive session in the first place.

The attorney tried to talk me into going into an “executive session” to discuss the totally irresponsible, secret union contract at the last town board meeting. I had been openly critical of that ridiculous contract and I knew what to expect from these people behind closed doors and refused to join them repeatedly.

The attorney assured me he would be there to be sure nothing inappropriate happened. I advised him that I did not trust him any more than the board members.

He asked why and I explained my opinions (stated above) and explained that, based on my interpretation  of the Committee on Open Government website, he had misled the town residents by stating an executive session to discuss “personnel matters” was allowable. I also told him that allowed the misrepresentation of the purpose of the meeting that totally misinformed residents.

He challenged me to prove “personnel matters” was not sufficient. I pulled up the committee’s website on my phone as the meeting continued and showed him the attached FAQ/Answer after the meeting. He then challenged me to take him to court. 

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

Editor’s note: See related story.


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