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Behind Closed Doors

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 19:37


The public is not invited. That is the message of a recent East Hampton Village Board decision to go from holding meetings twice each month to just once. What set up this change was a decision by the new majority to hold department meetings on Mondays attended by Mayor Jerry Larsen and Deputy Mayor Chris Minardi, both newcomers to office. Following those meetings, the village administrator “briefs” Village Trustees Rose Brown and Arthur Graham about the decisions made. Presumably, someone must also have to fill in Village Trustee Sandra Melendez, the fifth member of the board, after the fact as well, though how and by whom is not clear. This is to comply with the state Open Meetings Law, which requires public notice and the opportunity to listen any time a majority is together for any purpose.

So instead of once-a-month work session meetings at which village business is done in the open, the new majority does it behind closed doors, then follows a convoluted path to include the others. This is not conjecture. In a recent interview, Mr. Larsen said as much: “We can have our discussions, and go right into our board meeting.”

By not holding important conversations in public, well before laws are added or relaxed, community participation is all but impossible, because no one can know in advance what will be covered in the private meetings. Sometimes opposition to a particular plan takes a while to get going. By speeding up the calendar, Mr. Larsen is trying to avoid just that. Sure, he has said that hearings could be extended if there were “substantive issues,” but he appears to reserve to himself the decision on what is “substantive” and what is not. This is bad government and leaves the village open to abuses.

The spirit of the Freedom of Information Law is transparency. By allowing policymaking to move into the shadows, the village board majority has shown itself to be interested in anything but openness. The monthly work sessions should be restored.

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