Allegany County Board goes secret, apparently for training on how to act

Allegany County Attorney Allison Carrow projects an introductory
slide today before the Board of Legislators closed their doors,
apparently to learn how to conduct their meetings.

The Allegany County Board of Legislators today continued ongoing practices associated with several types of dubious secret sessions by again closing its doors to the public, apparently for the purpose of being told how to conduct its meetings.

County Board Chairman W. Brooke Harris of Alfred entertained a motion at the start of a Committee of the Whole meeting to implement “the entirety of this meeting will be held in attorney-client” discussions.

The action, taken upon motion by Legislator James Rumfelt of Andover, seconded by Gretchen Hanchett of Belmont, and unanimously adopted by those present, ejected Allegany Hope Community News Editor Casey Jones, the only member of the public present.

County Administrator Carissa Knapp, Clerk of the Board Brenda Rigby Riehle, Treasurer Terry Ross, and Acting Economic Development Director Tim Boyde remained for the meeting. Legislators Philip Curran of Alfred Station, Adam Cyr of Bolivar and Dwight Fanton of Wellsville were absent, with Gary Barnes of Wellsville on his way to the meeting as Jones was exiting the County Office Building in Belmont.

The activity came as County Attorney Allison Carrow was projecting a slide on the screen, entitled Parliamentary Procedure Presentation, and labeled to be presented today to the board.

Parliamentary procedure generally is considered to involve the rules under which the Board acts.

Report due tomorrow on secret meetings
Today’s action comes only a day before a state open government advocacy group is set to release a report on Secret Meetings Make the Open Meetings Law a Sham, as it relates to a loophole in state law which allows legislators of the same party to hold political caucuses at which any government business can be discussed behind closed doors without benefit to the public as to what was discussed and providing opinions of individual legislators. The Allegany County Board is comprised solely of Republicans.

Attorney-client discussions are another provision which local governments, including Allegany County, use to avoid public discussions, some of which, such as today’s apparent presentation, would otherwise be prohibited by state law.

As we reported earlier today, the New York Coalition for Open Government has announced a press conference for 11AM Thursday to discuss the political caucuses issue and recommendations for state law changes to current law.

Political caucuses continued today
As normal, the Allegany County Board of Legislators went into approximately 25 minutes of caucus this afternoon following a 1PM Ways and Means Committee meeting and prior to its 2PM board meeting.

Legislature Majority Leader Steve Havey of Wellsville reported at the end of the committee meeting that “it is my pleasure to announce a caucus in this chamber at 1:30(PM)”

Last year, current Board Chairman Harris, then board vice-chair, pushed back against an Allegany Hope Community News objection to an attempt by a committee to go into executive session for an alleged unauthorized purpose, declaring that anyone taking such an action would be asked to leave the meeting.

The challenge to that executive session at the time threw legislators into confusion as to how to react.

Confusion again
The chairman and the board also became confused on Monday when Allegany Hope Community News appeared at another Committee of the Whole meeting and the county attorney wasn’t present for an attorney-client session. It finally went into an executive session, purportedly to discuss the employment history of a particular individual.

Allegany Hope is a member of the New York Coalition for Open Government but has not been provided with a copy of tomorrow’s final report and whether it will mention specifically Allegany County’s twice-a-month political caucuses, apparently to discuss board meeting agendas.

Legislator Barnes, without comment or explanation, voted against three resolutions today for a $1,000 per month lease agreement with Jason Barrows for rental of an Angelica apartment being used for emergency housing, a contract with REDY Youth Services of Ohio for a sum not to exceed $194,370 to provide staffing services for a Code Blue warming center/shelter, and a contract with ACCORD Corporation of Belmont, not to exceed $20,616, for wrap-around services associated with the warming center.

That facility originally had been proposed for the Healing Waters building in Belmont’s main business district, but at last public report no application had been made for a certificate of occupancy after village officials expressed concern about its lack of compliance with zoning laws.

Otherwise, the board approved nearly 50 resolutions, nearly all by roll call votes, with no discussion. Legislator Janice Burdick of Alfred Station, some halfway through the repetitive voting, said the resolutions already had been presented to various committees.

Thursday’s Coalition press conference will be accessible to the public on Zoom at https://bit.ly/3wrfzX8 and livestreamed on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3kJlPqN, with the report, along with others which it has created in regard to ongoing open government violations, being posted to its website at http://bit.ly/3ZZQJLz.

— This story was prepared by Allegany Hope Community News Editor Casey Jones.