July 16, 2008: Margaretville needs open government
To The Editor:
I read your article “Pavilion park use tops village agenda” in the last week’s News and was shocked to find out that a special village board meeting had taken place with no public notice. Many local residents have expressed their dismay to me over the disturbing issue I raised in my letter to you of June 25 and indeed according to your article, that letter was one of the reasons the board called the special meeting. Astoundingly I was not informed of the meeting although a few other members of the public were evidently told of it. Your report of the board’s discussion indicates to me that the issue I raised was not really dealt with at all: how one trustee with a conflict-of-interest made demonstrably false assertions to the board upon which they based their severe restrictions on the Movies on Main. These restrictions killed the project to the detriment of the village.
You quote a trustee who said, “It’s not a violation of our ethics laws, as far as I can tell,” and added that he had given me a copy of the board’s ethics policy. Yet that policy clearly states, “In general, a conflict of interest exists when a municipal officer or employee possesses a personal interest that would tend to make his or her judgment less protective of the municipality’s interests.” Here we had a case of a co-owner of the Gallic Curci applying to the board for permission to present a movie-series in the pavilion and a board member, who is suing the applicant and the Galli Curci, leading the discussion and providing misinformation to the board. This fits the definition quoted above like a glove.
While it may be technically legal to hold unpublicized board meetings, informing select people only, it is certainly not the kind of open government we want. In a very small community like ours, citizens should be treated respectfully by village officials and not merely with the minimum consideration required by law. The board was not required to call me so I could be present at the discussion of my letter but it would have been incredibly easy and reasonable to do. They reacted to legitimate criticism by becoming less open and transparent.
I have asked to be placed on the agenda at the next village board meeting on July 21 with the intention of having a real discussion of the issue this time.