As the controversial issue regarding the ongoing dispute over the tract of open land near the Franklin Court Mews that the Village of Garden City sold to a group of private citizens continues to rage, a new wrinkle has been added in the shape of an advisory opinion rendered by the New York State Committee on Open Government. In his voluminous six-page response, committee Executive Director Bob Freeman pointed out that “…it appears decisions were effectively made by or on behalf of the Board of Trustees outside of meetings held by the Board in accordance with that statute [of the Open Meetings Law].
Second, if the Board did in fact discuss [matters pertaining to the sale], a question involves whether it could have done so during executive sessions. And third, in a related vein, if the Board took action during executive sessions, a record, minutes, would have been required.” While the board has been adamant about the fact that there was nothing nefarious about this transaction, the fact of the matter is that a vote for the sale was approved a week before Christmas 2013, no public meeting had been held in which the sale was discussed at length and certainly the only mention of a fence going up on said property only occurred within the pages of documents citizens wound up becoming aware of following the filing of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, which allows access to data held by governments, particularly if the material being requested pertains to acts that may affect the public. Furthermore, while the board is reporting that negotiations are ongoing with the Franklin Court Mews, LLC, details are vague and to date, citizens opposed to the sale who went on to form the Garden City Citizens for Accountable Government do not have a seat at the table for these negotiations. With Nicholas Episcopia ascending to the mayor’s position and assuring more transparency with village business going forward, we can only hope this winds up being the case.
—Dave Gil de Rubio