City council keeps public out of meeting

GLOVERSVILLE – The mayor and Common Council spent nearly 90 minutes behind closed doors Tuesday in a meeting that was intended to be a Republican caucus.

However, the meeting included all members of the council – Republican and Democratic – and a state official says it appears to have been illegal.

The meeting began with Councilman-At-Large James Robinson making a request for a Republican caucus. This was followed by Councilwoman Ellen Anadio requesting that council members Robin Wentworth and Stephen Mahoney also be included in the meeting.

Her request was immediately questioned by Mayor Dayton King and Robinson because Mahoney and Wentworth are members of the Democratic party, but Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski quickly supported Anadio’s request, stating “it’s been done before.”

The vote to have the meeting was passed by the Republican council members 3-2, with Councilman Arthur Simonds and Robinson voting against the Democrats’ presence and Councilman Jay Zarrelli, Siarkowski and Anadio voting in favor.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, said the caucus was no longer legal once the Democratic members of the council were invited.

“If you have people on the same council from two different parties and together they constitute the majority of the council, it’s not a political caucus,” Freeman said. “The Appellate Division held that it’s a meeting covered by the open meetings law.”

A political caucus can allow guests to attend, but they can’t be members of the council from a different political party, he said.

“A political caucus involves people in the same political party, and they invited people of the opposite party who also serve on the council,” Freeman said. “Looks like a snowflake, tastes like a meeting.”

After the closed meeting, neither the mayor nor members of the council would comment specifically on what was discussed, but King said he believes the discussions were positive and will improve the relationship among the city officials.

“We are making progress,” King said. “I think it was really good for all seven of the council members, the attorney and myself to discuss some items we needed to discuss. I think going forward we are going to have a lot better working relationship, and I look forward to that.”

However, other members of the council disagreed and said the meeting divided the two parties more.

“It was really a divisive tactic,” Zarrelli said. “It really separated the council and drew the lines even deeper, I thought.”

Robinson said he called the caucus because he had received negative emails and was trying to “rally the troops on the Republican end to iron out their differences and move forward.”

“I should have realized [it was illegal] and withdrawn my motion for a caucus so we could have just stayed in general session,” Robinson said.

Wentworth said she felt like the minority of the council was trying to “strong arm” the majority bipartisan members on certain issues.

“That was an attempt to exclude other elected officials from discussing city issues,” Wentworth said. “That was an attempt by the minority to try to strong arm the majority into changing their minds.”

She said five of the seven members of the council work well together on a bipartisan basis and respect each other.

The bipartisan majority would include three Republicans and two Democrats. This group and the other two Republicans have been divided on several city issues, including appointments to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“That meeting was set up and was meant to specifically exclude me,” she said.

Anadio said she wasn’t aware requesting Democratic members of the council to attend the caucus made the meeting illegal, but she was “grabbing at straws” in an attempt to keep the majority of the council unified.

“We didn’t know anything about it and it was just wrong,” Anadio said. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to see certain people left out because you have your own personal agenda. If it was illegal, I’m sorry, but I was just trying to keep peace and everyone on the same page.”

Simonds said he wasn’t aware the caucus was coming and he supported the Republican caucus because it is standard procedure, but he didn’t support Democratic members being included.