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City Council Dems like their doors closed

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Schenectady City Council Democrats excluded the council’s lone non-Democratic member, public and press from two recent meetings where important decisions about “public” business were made. Although they’re allowed to hold these so-called political caucuses under the state open meetings law, they violated the law’s spirit and showed disrespect for the public by doing so.

Some history is in order here. The open meetings law has had an exemption for political party meetings or caucuses ever since it was adopted in 1976. But courts, noting the law’s broad language favoring openness wherever possible, limited the exemption to such things as party business and agendas. If the party, either majority or minority, was to discuss public business, the meeting had to be open, the courts said.

In 1985, everything changed after the state Assembly was threatened with a lawsuit for denying a reporter access to its political caucuses. The Legislature quickly passed an amendment to the open meetings law giving itself and local legislative bodies the right to discuss even public business in closed-door conferences or caucuses. It said that the public interest was promoted by “private, candid exchange of ideas and points of view among members of each political party concerning the public business to come before legislative bodies.”

But even then, the Appellate Division in a 1991 decision said that a line could be drawn between “candid discussions” among party members and “the conduct of public business.” We’d venture to say that in a city like Schenectady, where one party is dominant, the decisions made in party caucuses — especially when those decisions are adopted the next day with minimal discussion, as they were with two important budget votes in recent weeks — effectively constitute the conduct of public business.

Do you support the Schenectady City Council's approach to discussing public issues in closed-door caucus sessions?

See the results.

Judging by the reaction at Tuesday’s regular council meeting, the public is not happy about this turn of events. But that doesn’t matter to the Democrats, who will hold caucuses regularly in the future, according to council President Denise Brucker.

Or maybe it depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo told us in a recent letter to the editor that these closed-door meetings, where no one but the Democrats are in attendance, aren’t “secret” meetings, because a) the law allows them and b) secret to her means "slimy people slinking through dark alleys to avoid being detected."

And Councilman Carl Erikson said what really matters is how he voted, not the debate or discussion that led to his vote. But if that were the case, why have an open meetings law at all?

Even with the exemption, there’s an intent behind that law: to let sunshine into government, to let the public see their representatives in action. The council is on the wrong path. It shouldn’t be doing its work in private just because it can.



November 16, 2012
7:42 a.m.

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"Legally, the Open Meetings Law allows members of one party to meet behind closed doors to discuss matters of public policy." then why do they keep calling it a caucus and why are they meeting at City Hall and not at the Blue Ribbon like they used to do?....Talk about arrogance..and misuse of public funding for their own uses..
President Denise Brucker said she plans to use caucus meetings regularly.
“It is what it is,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, Riggi appealed to the council to stop holding caucus meetings so he could attend important decision-making sessions.
“I am here to represent the people,” he said.
Brucker told him she would not stop holding caucuses because the Democrats need to agree on their votes before discussing matters in public. She told him to appreciate his freedom from such discussions.
“You can do and say whatever you feel,” Brucker said, as members of the audience booed her. “You don’t need to take other people into consideration. You’re a free man.”
"Other People" into consideration......The ONLY PEOPLE taken into consideration should be the PEOPLE OF SCHENECTADY....if this is not the case they need to resign from their position as they have not upheld their oath taken when they took that position.....No where in that oath does it say "Other People".....

November 16, 2012
10:56 a.m.

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At the public city council meeting on Monday, November 12, Denise Brucker stated to Vince Riggi that he is a "free man" and "not accountable to anyone" regarding his exclusion from the impromptu political caucus. This could not be further from the truth. As anyone can tell from the response of the people, Vince understands that he is accountable to the people as they elected him to represent them. While there is no opposition to a caucus and the majority of the city council seems to be hiding behind technicalities to maintain an agenda, the people are the ones who are suffering in the form of higher taxes and less service.

Many city residents are repeating the same mantra at each and every council meeting... Their pleas are falling on deaf ears with the exception of a single council member. Perhaps, rather than shut him out, the rest of the council could learn from him simply by noticing the responses of the people to his words and actions along with this outpouring of support.

The residents of Schenectady must hold City Council and the Mayor's Office continually accountable. Additionally, these elected representatives must remember that WE THE PEOPLE of the City of Schenectady must remember that these representatives' positions are in our hands. We put them into these positions and we can take them out just as easily at the ballot box.

Joe Kelleher
Schenectady City Resident

November 16, 2012
7:56 p.m.

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All future elections should be a response to the arrogance and self centeredness of the current council members and the Mayor of Schenectady.
Vote Them Out!!1
We need more people to represent the citizens and taxpayers of Schenectay: the highest taxed county in the USA.

November 17, 2012
7:47 a.m.

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The problem being that this is Schenectady and people vote democrat regardless and in most cases they don't have a clue who they are voting for.