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Dear Town Board Members:
I am writing to express my disappointment in the November 25th emergency Town Board Meeting. Please understand that while I may not agree with the resolutions that were passed, my disappointment does not stem from those resolutions, rather what appears to be a lack of understanding or desire to know the processes governing Town Board members and their responsibilities. Understanding that three of the board members have less than one year of experience, I can make allowances for not knowing, but the complete disregard for the input from a Town Clerk, whose 25 years of experience and wealth of knowledge was highlighted during the budget process, and the lack of willingness to listen or consider the input from Councilmember Long due to the contentious nature of the board relationships are very troubling.
While I will not pretend to have any expertise on town governance, I learned a long time ago that having a wealth of knowledge is not as important as understanding what you don’t know and where one can go to find out. I cite below some examples of concerns from Wednesday’s meeting with information that I have gleaned from the Town Law Manual (I believe as recently elected officials you should have received a copy of this). The information therein was confirmed to be in the NYS Local Government Handbook as well as Google searches for the specific language of NYS Town Law.
PLRT Expenditure for Mass Mailing
The Town Clerk inquired about the authorization for the PLRT’s planned mass mailing. Several board members expressed a belief that since the appropriations were budgeted, the PLRT was authorized to make the expenditure. The following is from Section 2-29 B on page 25 of the Town Law Manual.
§ Citizen committees. Although not specifically authorized by statute, town boards may appoint one or more citizen committees to advise them on particular matters. The town board cannot delegate its authority or authorize the spending of public monies by private individuals; thus, citizen committees are advisory only.
Supervisor Horton went further to contend that he had authority to spend the amount in question. While the Procurement Policy authorizes expenditures of up to $500, an expenditure by an individual does not necessarily mean reimbursement. Thus, the agenda item every month to approve to pay the bills as presented by audit. Further, the Purchasing Policy limits the responsibility for purchasing goods and services to the Superintendent of Highways, Town Justices and each Department Head. As the PLRT is not a department, it would be unfortunate for someone from the PLRT to incur an expense against a budget appropriation line item only to have the Town Board reject the expense during a review of the bills (realizing this to be unlikely given the proclivity of the current board to vote as a block). The following excerpts from the Town Law Manual seem to be pertinent.
§ Section 2-17, page 20 - Supervisor.
A. Responsibilities. As a member of the town board, the supervisor has no more authority than any other individual town board member (see § 2-16[B]infra). This means that the supervisor’s vote has no more weight than any other town board member, nor does the supervisor’s vote count as a tiebreaker.
B. Delegated authority. In order to keep the town functioning in between town board meetings and address day-to-day issues, the town board may delegate the power and duties of administration and supervision of the town or special improvement districts to the supervisor (see Town Law § 29). However, a town board may not abdicate or surrender its basic statutory responsibilities to the supervisor.
§ Section 2-16, page 19 – Town Board.
B. Responsibilities. The town board is the executive and legislative branch of town government. Town Law § 64 lists the general powers of the town board, which includes, but is not limited to, managing and controlling town finances, controlling and managing town property and generally “hav[ing] and exercis[ing] all the powers conferred upon the town and such additional powers as shall be necessarily implied therefrom,” (Town Law §64).
Controlling of town finances is a statutory responsibility.
Golf Course Pro Shop Advisory Committee
From the prior example, there would appear to be some misunderstandings with regard to the scope of the authority of such committees and their responsibilities. I offer the following:
§ Section 2-29, page 25 – Town Board Committees.
Many towns find that there is a considerable amount of work to do in between meetings in order to gather information on matters requiring town board decisions. The town supervisor may appoint committees of town board members to make studies and report back with recommendations (see Town Law § 63). Town board committees can conduct formal or informal meetings and hearings; however, they cannot make any decision for the town board. Please note that these committees are considered public bodies and thus are subject to the Open Meetings Law.
§ Section 3-15, page 41 – Open Meetings Law. Open Meetings Law mandates that meetings where a quorum of the public body is present must be open to the general public.
A. Applicability to town board and other bodies. The Open Meetings Law applies not only to town boards and other town bodies and commissions performing a governmental function, but to committees and subcommittees thereof consisting of two or more individuals (Public Officers Law § 102).
B. Meeting defined. Public Officers Law §102(1) defines the term “meeting” to mean “the official convening of a
public body for the purpose of conducting public business.” “Meeting” has been broadly interpreted by the courts, and they have found that any gathering of a quorum of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business is a "meeting" that must be convened open to the public, whether or not there is an intent to take action and regardless of the manner in which a gathering may be characterized.
As I have never seen notice of a meeting of the Lakes Management Committee and given the difficulties this past year keeping up with changes to the meeting schedule of the PLRT not properly noticed, it is hoped that a more concerted effort will be made to make these meetings open and available to the public. The response from the public to the tragedy of the loss of the Nick Stoner Golf Course Pro Shop warrants this availability of access.
It is also noteworthy that committees of this nature are charged with making recommendations to the Town Board. They are not empowered to make decisions for the Town Board.
It is hoped that from these few examples that it is apparent that there is a difference between the conducting of town business compared to that of private business. As noted above, the Town Supervisor has no more authority than the other members of the Town Board. He is not the chief operating officer nor the chief executive officer. When given the authority to act as the sole point of contact with the entities involved in the replacement of a pro shop for the community golf course, it is expected that policies, procedures and laws governing the town will continue to be followed, i.e. the Procurement Policy (2013).
1b. - The following items are not subject to competitive bidding pursuant to § 103 of the General Municipal Law: purchase contracts under $20,000.00 and public works contracts under $35,000; emergency purchases; certain municipal hospital purchases; goods purchased from agencies for the blind or severely handicapped; goods purchased from correctional institutions; purchases under State and County contracts, and surplus and second-hand purchases from another government entity and leases of equipment with operators under the control and supervision of Town officers and employees. The Town must first explore and exhaust purchase options under State and County Contracts, surplus and second-hand purchases from other government entities, certain municipal hospital purchases, goods purchased from agencies for the blind or severely handicapped and goods purchased from correctional institutions.
While it is understood that this project is to be “fast tracked”, the situation, while tragic, does not seem to meet the standard from the Procurement Policy of an emergency purchase.
5b - Emergency purchases pursuant to § 103(4) of the General Municipal Law. Due to the nature of this exception, these goods or services must be purchased immediately and a delay in order to seek alternate proposals may threaten life, health, safety or welfare of the residents. This section does not preclude alternate proposals if time permits.
At this point, you may be asking yourselves what am I looking for.
Fulfill the oath of office you took: “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Town Board Member according to the best of my ability.”
When a procedural question is raised, consider that the speaker may have information relevant to the proceeding. Further action can be tabled until such time as the question at point can be investigated.
State publicly at the December Town Board meeting that there were comments made contrary to and inconsistent with Town Law guidelines with apologies to the Town Clerk and Councilmember Long.
Treat each other with the decency that befits the office and trust the members of this community have placed in you.
Thank-you for your thoughtful consideration.
Douglas H. Purcell, Jr.
P. O. Box 713
Caroga Lake, NY 12032
Copyright © James McMartin Long 2017-2021