Where is the public deliberation? Hearing run in autocratic manner

To the Editor:

Public hearings are held for a variety of reasons in town government. They are usually held when a town wants to enact a new local law, has a project that requires a variance, a project that requires review by law, etc.

These guidelines are covered under the New York Consolidated Laws, Executive Law and public hearings are also mentioned in various sections of New York State Town Law.

Executive Law clearly states the following: “The parties shall be afforded the opportunity to present evidence and argument and …to cross-examine witnesses on all relevant issues ….”

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, there were several public hearings on the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals agenda. There was one case in particular that warrants mentioning, the case requesting the identification of the town code that was violated by having an Airbnb property in the town of Guilderland.

The property owner who was cited for this alleged violation retained representation by a local attorney as he was not available to attend the meeting.

What was remarkable about this is that Ms. Elizabeth Lott, chair of the zoning board of appeals, chose to continually interrupt this attorney who represented the property owner, thus preventing him from making his statement or presenting his case uninterrupted.

It should be noted that no other person who spoke at this particular hearing was interrupted, cut off, or had their statement shortened for any reason. It was also very clear that she did not take into consideration any of the information presented during the hearing as evidenced by her pre-written motion.

Watching this exchange was difficult in that the appearance given by the chair of this committee is that, if you are a resident speaking, you can, without interruption. If you are an attorney, you will be challenged; why, we do not know. This is discriminatory behavior on the part of the ZBA chair.

The issue of cutting off speakers during a public hearing was brought to Ms. Lott’s attention in September, in a private email, telling her that public comment during a public hearing is a right allowed to the public and that she should not cut off people during their statements.

This is evidenced by watching the video of the ZBA meeting on the town website for Sept. 6, 2023, where she cut off a resident speaking on behalf of another resident.

You can also watch Ms. Lott interrupt and prevent the attorney representing his client from making an uninterrupted statement as was allowed others in this past Wednesday’s ZBA meeting that is posted on the town website as well. Actions such as these clearly violate the Open Meetings Law.

In addition, at the end of the hearing, Ms. Lott then proceeded to read her decision that had been written before the meeting was even held. The board members present had two choices — agree with her decision or disagree with it. Two members agreed, one did not.

Since this decision was already written, we as the public can only draw these conclusions:

— 1. The ZBA members had private discussions and deliberated in private regarding the case, which violates the Open Meetings Law;

— 2. The ZBA members were not privy to her reasoning and she acted alone, without the consultation of the board as outlined in New York State Town Law;

— 3. She was privy to more information than the ZBA members and did not share the information with her fellow board members.

If you listen closely to what Ms. Lott said, you will certainly get the same impression: “my decision.”

There did not appear to be any room for discussion as Ms. Lott then immediately made a motion to deny. Where is the public deliberation?

When you are given one piece of paper that is questionable as to its authenticity as the basis for the denial, one wonders what is going on and who is covering up for whom.

Whatever the reason, it is very clear that this process was not open and Ms. Lott had made up her mind as evidenced by the pre-written decision that she claimed was “my decision.” This intimates lack of consultation with fellow board members and acting in an independent and autocratic manner.

The decision should have been discussed; these are called deliberations and are to occur in public, which, again, was not done. The board members, in my estimation, were railroaded into either going along with Ms. Lott or not.

If you are to watch the video of the vote, you can clearly see the decision did not appear to be an easy one for one of the board members.

This is the second time Ms. Lott has failed to abide by the Open Meetings Law. Again, we would suggest that she familiarize herself with this provision of the Public Officers Law.

As a retiree and a former administrative law judge, you would like to believe that she would be aware of these provisions and adhere to them. We guess not.

Robyn Gray


Guilderland Coalition For Responsible Growth

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Lott declined to respond. See related story.

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