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Spring Valley Village Board to revote after call-in blunder
Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin has been mum with the media since her arrest last week -- under the advice of her counsel -- and seemingly focused on avoidance of any further public embarrassment.
But on Tuesday, at her first Village Board meeting since the arrest, she slipped up, allowing one trustee to vote by phone -- a move that's against the state's open meeting laws, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of New York State Committee on Open Government.
"The vote by phone doesn't count," Freeman told Newsday. "The public has the right to attend, to listen and to observe public officials' actions and votes during a meeting."
Although the New York State Appellate Division -- concerning the Town of Eastchester in Westchester County -- determined in a 2005 decision that telephone conferencing was permitted, call-in voting and participation are still off-limits, Freeman said, because they could lead to shady behavior.
"No. 1, I wouldn't have to face my constituents," Freeman said of phone voting. "No. 2, nobody could see who's whispering in my ear."
At Tuesday night's meeting, the board erupted in an argument about how the village will pay -- without raising taxes -- for $200-an-hour attorneys that will help comply with federal subpoenas for village records.
Jasmin and Desmaret had to recuse themselves from the vote because of the federal charges pending against them. They are accused of taking bribes to influence decisions on a community center that was to be built on village land.
Trustee Anthony Leon, frustrated with the "lying," dissolved the quorum for the meeting when he stormed out.
The board quickly discussed how to get it done.
"If it's possible, can the trustees, since Trustee Leon got so angry he left ...," trustee Demeza Delhomme started.
"We can do it by a phone," Jasmin interrupted, cutting Delhomme off before he could suggest the phone voting.
Then Delhomme, who already had dialed Leon's number, put his black flip phone on speaker for the packed board room to hear.
"Trustee Leon, you will be on the phone right now," Delhomme said into the phone. "What is your vote on the hire of the law firms?"
"Yes to, to hire the firms," Leon responded.
After the vote, Village Attorney Kevin Conway suggested that a written resolution be drafted for Leon and the other two nonconflicted board members to sign "so there's no confusion."
But after Newsday contacted Village Clerk Sherry Scott about the open meetings law on Thursday, Conway scheduled a special meeting in the board room for 3 p.m. Friday for a revote.
"After I told him what you said, I guess he looked it up and found it was true, and that's why we're doing it," Scott told Newsday, referring to Conway. "Thanks for your help."