A January 9 meeting of town, county and village officials held to discuss flood recovery in Fleischmanns has become a political punching bag, as the village gets close to its improbably heated board of trustees election.
The problem? Too many Fleischmanns village trustees were at the meeting, making a "quorum" of public officials. Since the meeting wasn't advertised to the public beforehand, it was held in violation of open meeting law -- as village trustee Harriet Grossman pointed out publicly last week.
On Monday, March 12, Grossman read a letter (embedded below) into the minutes of the village board meeting, blasting then-mayor Dave Morell and current trustees Ben Fenton and Todd Pascarella for holding "secret meetings":
The meeting violated a law essential to any democracy and any free people. It raises a question as to whether or not other secret meetings have been held. When? With what agendas? Leading to what decisions?
For their part, Fenton and Pascarella admit: They screwed up. But they say it was an honest mistake, stemming from the fact that in this tiny village, officials wear many hats. Pascarella is the village highway superintendent, and Fenton is the village's FEMA co-coordinator, along with Larry Reilly, who is now waging a write-in campaign for village trustee.
Pascarella said that the meeting was held to talk with county officials about the status of county-owned bridges that were destroyed by Irene, and that he was there as highway superintendent, not to represent the village board.
"We didn't realize that that meant we had three board members in the room. Once we realized that, we apologized for it," he said.
But Grossman isn't buying the apology -- and she maintains the meeting is evidence of village government being conducted in secret.
"Without open government we have nothing. And this clearly shows that they had a secret meeting," said Grossman. "They have a big machine behind them, I don't know who it is."
Fenton said that after many hours of volunteering for the flood-recovery effort, Grossman's accusations of conspiracy sting.
"It's discouraging when you throw so much of your time and effort into recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene and then have a technical error, an honest error, that is misconstrued and used politically against you," said Fenton.
Pascarella said that the board will be more careful about making sure meetings are properly announced in the future.
"Closer to the flood, we were less concerned with technicalities," he said.
"If the building is burning down, are you going to drive under the speed limit to get there?"
Below: Harriet Grossman's March 12 letter to the Fleischmanns village board of trustees, and the email from FEMA co-coordinator Larry Reilly calling the January 9 meeting discussed in her letter.