Waldenburg: Executive Sessions Protect Privacy, Shield District From Potential Litigation

The school board president explains the district's position on what is and what is not discussed in public.

I want to take this opportunity to speak to the community because

The Board of Education is the legally constituted corporate governing body of the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District. As such, the Board acts in accordance with authority and responsibility vested in it by federal and state laws, rules, and regulations on behalf of the district’s students and citizens.

Each member of our corporate board takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the State of New York to the best of his/her ability as a trustee. I believe all of our trustees are dedicated public servants who respect their ultimate responsibility of being stewards of the public trust. Nothing is more important to each of them and myself than our personal and professional integrity.

In its governance, the board has a myriad of responsibilities: to assure high quality education for each of its students, to provide long range planning for the district, to craft district-wide policies, to monitor fiscal responsibility and to confer tenure on well deserving professionals.

Most of the board’s work is conducted in public session through action where items are presented to the board to review, discuss and vote upon.

Sometimes however it is necessary for the board to convene into executive session for topics that may not be discussed in public.

The use of executive session to discuss these topics, protects the best interest of the District and protects the rights of an individual or corporation. Some of these topics include but are not limited to items that would endanger public safety, information related to a criminal offense, the employment history of an individual or corporation, or the sale or lease of real property.

In recent weeks there have been published statements indicating that the Board of Education through its advisory audit committee convened improperly into an executive session to discuss the district’s internal audit report. Although fact the reason stated for the executive session “to discuss the internal audit report” was not valid, two of the topics anticipated and ultimately discussed in that executive session were. It was anticipated that the employment history of both a corporation and an individual as they related to the internal audit were to be discussed. They were in fact discussed. If this individual and/or corporation were discussed in public, it would not only show a lack of respect for those being discussed, but could financially harm the district by exposing it to potential litigation.

Therefore, the intent of the Board was not to conceal the District’s financial information in the audit report since it was subsequently posted on the District’s website but to protect the identity of an individual or corporation and ultimately the district itself.

Since that time, the board has been most deliberate about the reasons stated for convening into Executive Session, adhering strictly to the letter of the law. Even the Committee on Open Government opined that the District, with regard to its executive session, is in full compliance with the Open Government meetings law.

Although the reasons for an executive session must be posted, minutes are not taken because these discussions must remain confidential for reasons already stated.

As President of the Board of Education, I ask that you understand the board’s collective commitment to the honor of our district and community. We will continue to serve our children and fellow residents with the sincerity and integrity this community deserves.

Stephen V. Waldenburg, Jr.
President of the Board of Education

Kelly Campbell June 10, 2011 at 11:17 PM
Guys, plesae refrain from name calling in the comments.
East N'ptr June 11, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Gabriel, glad you were able to vent, but I never realized it was disrespectful to ask elected officials such as our Board of Education to follow the laws of transparency. But I guess you're saying we should ignore the law and let our elected officials make up the rules as they go. How sad for our community that this does not concern you and other name-callers, and that you would rather spend your time discrediting people who are trying to do the right thing. As far as "Northport wants no part of it"...I beg to differ. Did you not see the results of the BOE election?
Polly June 11, 2011 at 08:12 PM
'As far as "Northport wants no part of it"...I beg to differ. Did you not see the results of the BOE election?' Good one East. Interesting snipe by the local paper in the 11th hour of the 2 incumbents. Those who demand transparency ought to practice it themselves.
steve davis June 12, 2011 at 04:47 PM
He should have had the courage to at least call out the Northport Observer by name.
mary gilmore June 13, 2011 at 08:11 PM
"Polly" and "East N'ptr," It's quite ironic that this thread on transparency is being conducted by individuals who do not have the courage to use their real names.
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:06 PM
President Waldenberg: I respectfully disagree with your position that the N-E N School Board follows all the statutes of the Public Officer Laws, and Open Meeting Laws/Executive Session. Please refer to the statutes and read the opinions from the Committee on Open Government, (Committee) and the judicial system, http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/oml_listing/oindex.html). According to the “Committee” and their lawyers, as well as the Appellate Courts in New York State, discussions in Executive Session are not confidential unless a statute /law defines it as such. Below is an excerpt from the “Committee” regarding executive session and its meaning: "Obviously, the purpose of an executive session is to enable members of public bodies to deliberate, to speak freely and to develop strategies in situations in which some degree of secrecy is permitted..." "Since a public body may choose to conduct an executive session or discuss an issue in public, information expressed during an executive session is not “confidential.” To be confidential, again, a statute must prohibit disclosure and leave no discretion to an agency or official regarding the ability to disclose."
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:08 PM
This was provided to me by Jean Baron... As to a recent School Board notice of executive session, (this is just one example of where the BOE does not follow all guidelines of Executive Session). Please see below response from Ms. Jobin-Davis, Esq., a lawyer from NYS Education Department, Committee on Open Government, and at my request as to whether our BOE complied with the statutes for meeting in an Executive Session. EXAMPLE NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING Tuesday, May 31, 2011 Northport High School Principal's Conference Room 154 Laurel Hill Road Northport, NY 7:00 p.m. The Board will meet in public at 7:00 p.m., and it is anticipated that the Board will act upon a resolution, upon majority vote, to immediately convene into Executive Session to discuss matters pertaining to current and possible litigation, and the employment history of an individual employee. The public is advised that Executive Sessions are not open to the public.
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:09 PM
RESPONSE Jean, In direct response, yes, a public body may discuss current and possible litigation in executive session; however, there are circumstances when it is not permitted to do so. For clarification, I recommend that you please read opinions on our online OML index, under “L” for “Litigation”. In sum, if there is pending litigation the case name must be given, if the board is considering taking legal action against an entity, naming the entity is not necessary, but if the discussion concerns an issue that “might become the topic of a lawsuit”, or if a decision “could result in action taken against the public body” such discussion is not a permissible topic for executive session. Again, I recommend that you take a look at the advisory opinions – the above analysis is very simplistic. Camille S. Jobin-Davis, Esq. Assistant Director NYS Committee on Open Government Department of State 99 Washington Ave, Suite 650 Albany NY 12231 http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/laws_regulations.html Again, by Jean Baron, with her permission to publish the above and following info...
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Did you know that there is no Academic Intervention Services, (AIS) policy which has been mandated by the Education Department since July of 2000 for our children who have difficulty in reading, other subjects and are pulled out at times from essential core subjects to the ‘Resource Room”? This was confirmed by a district employee and Dr. Marylou McDermott to a community member. The lack of the ‘‘AIS” policy FOR ELEVEN YEARS was called “egregious, especially since your budget is over 150ml” by Mr. David Bryant from the NYSED. Mr. Bryant stated that members of the community must appeal for this blatant omission to the Commissioner of the Education Department. As parents, we must ask ourselves what are our remedies for our children who are still having difficulty with courses and have been for years, and of the parents who had, and still have tutors for their children with all the expenses?
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Further, our community must know that our school board and school officials implemented a Technology Plan in possible violation of Executive Session/Open Meetings Law for misappropriation of public funds. The use of public monies is neither a topic nor discussion for executive session and we, the community would like to know when the school board, superintendent and other staff discussed and implemented this plan without the knowledge or vote of the public. Technology is a great tool for our children and as parents we encourage our children in this area, however, the use of public funds must be appropriated according to the law. Presently, pursuant to a request for documents of any school board agendas/minutes for discussion of this plan in public, is lacking. Does our BOE want to expose our district to a potential law suit based on alleged misappropriation of public funds in the amount of $9ml? Does our BOE know that former Trustee Ingram, who made the motion to accept the Technology Plan on May 10, 2010, http://web.northport.k12.ny.us/board_education.cfm?subpage=262845 at a Special Meeting, told two community members on the night of the recent trustees elections results of May 17th, “the Technology Plan should have been discussed and voted on at a public meeting, but was not”.
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:15 PM
Further, Matt Nelson, Assistant Superintendent of Technology informed a community member, that the Technology Plan should have been discussed with all the details and voted on at a public meeting with notice given to the public, but “I was directed by the BOE that this should not be discuss at a public meeting.” The statute clearly states that any use of public funds is not to be discussed in executive session, and must be discussed at an open meeting (public), and voted on by the school board at an open meeting, with details and minutes. This was not done! Additionally, Mr. Nelson went on to state at a public meeting that the Technology Plan was mandated by NYSED. Mr. Jay O’Connor from the NYSED Budget/Management Services, indicated that there is absolutely no mandate/ requirement that any district implement a Technology plan. Again, our school district and school board is subject to a potential law suit if they continue to fail to comply with the statutes. A letter is in the process of being forward to the NYSED regarding the alleged misappropriation of public funds and who were involved in this decision and the remedy.
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:16 PM
An amendment to §107(1) of the Open Meetings Law >> An amendment to §107(1) of the Open Meetings Law recently approved is intended to improve compliance and to ensure that public business is discussed in public as required by that law. Effective August 5, 2008, the new provision states that when it is found by a court that a public body voted in private “in material violation” of the law “or that substantial deliberations occurred in private” that should have occurred in public, the court “shall award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees” to the person or entity that initiated the lawsuit. Lastly, “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy, (http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/highlights.html Committee on Open Government.
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 12:21 PM
So there we have it......now what is the next step....Does our BOE start listening to the public and make corrections of how they do things? Or, will it be more of the same good old boys stuff....The BOE must realize that they are not in control, must conduct business according to the law and get the community involved and not their selective few.. WE ARE AWAITING THE RESULTS OF THE ADVISORY AUDIT COMMITTEE MEMBERS. WHO WILL THEY BE? MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY WHO HAVE FINANCIAL EXPERTISE OR JUST PAST BOE MEMBERS..WHO EITHER RESIGNED OR LOST THE RECENT ELECTION...DO WE REALLY NEED TO WAIT UNTIL THE NEXT BOE MEETING, PLEASE LET THE COMMUNITY KNOW NOW?
Polly June 14, 2011 at 01:00 PM
How can anyone take someone with a very distinctive rambling and partially incoherent writing style seriously when they pretend to post on behalf of theirself?
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 01:56 PM
No, as Jean really does not what to be part of this anymore ..but does know what she is talking about..Shame you won't take the time to read the truth!! ps, PATCH only allows certain amount of words......this is why the letter was broken up....
benjamin June 14, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Also, did we hear this correct, that McDermott's contract was just renewed again with all new perks and benefits. Contract was amended last year till June 0f 2012..Well the word is she wanted a new contract because isn't' it in the works that all superintendent's contracts are to be capped at $225..per our Governor? Her salary would have been capped, but ow she is making alot more then that and that can't be changed for guess what, another five years. Hey wait a minute, no minutes of this and no vote in public, where are the details? Yikes, here we go again..can someone confirm all of this with the BOE?
mary gilmore June 14, 2011 at 07:31 PM
the renewal of dr mcdermott's contract was discussed and voted on publicly at the last boe meeting and was subsequently reported in all of the local papers.
luvjuly4th June 14, 2011 at 08:02 PM
what was discussed? what are the details of the contract? new salary? new benefits? raises for the next five years? i didn't see these details in the local papers. therefore i conclude no details of the new contract were released to the public. transparency? integrity of the board? you have to be kidding. get it in before the governor says enough is enough. i am sure northport won't be alone with that manuevuer. it may be legal but it certainly isn't right. that is my 2 cents.
Polly June 14, 2011 at 11:23 PM
And there she comes with yet another user name...


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