The lakefront sale is dead, and the Committee on Open Government responds to Geneva Believer
The December 7th City Council meeting drew a large turnout for public comment in reference to the revised resolution to sell a 7 acre parcel at the eastern edge of the public lakefront. The majority of people speaking in support of the land sale were either in the real estate business or employed by the Town of Waterloo. After hearing from the public, City Council promptly defeated the sale of the parcel by a decisive 7-2 margin, with only Mayor Ron Alcock and Ward 5 Councilor Jason Hagerman remaining in support.
While it’s tempting to praise City Council for listening to their constituents and doing the right thing by voting down the parcel sale, the sale should never have become an issue in the first place. For reasons that have been detailed on this blog and in the local media, the entire affair was a public relations debacle, and trust in City Council took a significant hit.
In this case, the voice of the public was heard and the land sale, which could have led to further environmental degradation of the lakefront along with the future sale and development of additional parcels, was averted.
It’s time for the people of Geneva to press for an open and transparent process to explore re-zoning the lakefront, as suggested in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Open Meetings Law: Committee on Open Government Responds
As detailed in a previous article, I contacted the NY Department of State Committee on Open Government to ask for an advisory opinion on the City’s use of executive session to discuss the proposal to purchase and develop the land. I received the following response:
“I took a look through Geneva City Council meetings minutes for the early part of 2016 and I see that the council entered into executive session a few times (1/6, 4/6, and 5/4) to discuss the sale of public property but it is unclear whether they were discussing the proposed sale of this particular piece of property. Section 105(h) of the Open Meetings Law permits a public body to enter into executive session to discuss the proposed sale of public property, but only “when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” Based on the information available to me, I am unable to determine whether the sale of “Seneca County Tax Parcel 23-3-17.2″ was ever discussed in executive session, or if it was, whether having that conversation in public could have substantially affected the value of the property.”
I made a followup phone call, and the representative provided essentially the same information. To summarize:
There is no proof of City Council discussing the land sale in executive session, because there are no publicly available minutes to confirm any discussion of the land sale in executive session. These executive session minutes are not available because executive session minutes are rarely made public because they are executive sessions. Therefore, it cannot be ascertained whether or not City Council violated Open Meetings Laws.
However, the representative did tell me that because City Council is charged with the responsibility of always acting in the best interest of the residents of the city, this would mean that they are expected to always get the highest dollar amount possible in the sale of public land. If discussing the proposal publicly would be expected to lower the amount the City could get for the parcel, then the discussion could be held in executive session.
The Committee on Open Government recommends that if a citizen feels that Open Meetings Law has been violated, that citizen may initiate an Article 78 proceeding, which is basically a legal complaint which would ask the court to decide whether OML was violated. If any Geneva Believer readers have the resources to take this step, it would be an honorable and important effort toward justice and transparency within our city government.