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Gloversville school board has private meeting

September 28, 2012
By LEVI PASCHER , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - The Gloversville Enlarged School District Board of Education met privately on Thursday night with its attorney.

The Leader-Herald received a tip about the private, unannounced meeting and sent a reporter to cover it, but he was told by Superintendent Michael Vanyo the meeting was not open to the public - a possible violation of the state Open Meetings Law.

Vanyo said the board was gathering to discuss private legal matters. The reporter was escorted out of the building by Assistant Superintendent Steve Schloicka.

"There are certain times when meetings don't need to be made public. Meetings when the board meets with the school district's attorney regarding counsel would fall under that," Vanyo said today. "It was a meeting to discuss legal matters."

On Thursday, board President Peter Semione confirmed there would be a meeting but referred to it as a "workshop."

The meeting was not announced on the district website or otherwise posted. The law requires public bodies to announce their meetings ahead of time.

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Semione declined to comment on the subject of the meeting this morning.

Board member Mike Hauser confirmed today the board had met Thursday with the district's attorney, James E. Girvin. Girvin did not return a phone call by press time this morning.

"The board met with the school's attorney to discuss improving the board," Hauser said. He declined to elaborate. At the board's last meeting, board member Robert Curtis made a motion calling for Semione to step down as board president.

The New York State Open Meetings Law states, "Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public, except that an executive session of such body may be called and business transacted thereat in accordance with section one hundred five of this article."

Thursday's meeting was never opened in public session, so the procedure for calling an executive session - which requires a vote of the body - was not followed. The law requires that notice of the time and place of all meetings be given in advance.

Mike Grygiel, an attorney for the New York News Publishers Association, said today the Open Meetings Law "cannot be circumvented or evaded by characterizing a school board meeting as a workshop session."

"The meeting discussed very serious issues but was not a 'workshop'," board member Joe Andrews said today, declining to comment on the matters discussed.

"The requirements of notice ... to provide the public with the opportunity to attend need to be complied with," Grygiel said. "Whether or not a particular portion of a school board meeting is properly closed or conducted in executive session depends on the nature and content of information to be discussed in such session. They need to have an open meeting before they can declare they are going to go into executive session."

He said attorney-client privilege could be evoked for a private meeting, depending on "the substance of consideration of legal advice being provided by the board's attorney."

Editor's note: This article has been updated from the version in the print edition to include information gathered after press time.



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