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New Bayville board keeps public out of meetings

(L-R) Members of the Village Board of Bayville

(L-R) Members of the Village Board of Bayville Joe Russo, Mayor Paul Rupp, Timothy Charon, and John Taylor, preside over a village board meeting at Bayville Village Hall on July 14, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas Ferrara

The new Bayville village administration locked out members of the public during meetings this week, after campaigning on transparency.

Trustees met before a scheduled public meeting Monday night, while the Village Hall's doors were locked; and they met afterward in an executive session that a state official said may have violated state open meetings law.

Mayor Paul Rupp, who took office last week, said they would hold an executive session following the regular meeting to meet "with a member of the Crescent Beach Club to try to mitigate some concerns with the noise level."

Rupp said earlier that the village had received numerous complaints about noise coming from the club.

State open meetings law says public business must be conducted in an open manner so citizens can observe the deliberations of officials. The law allows public bodies to discuss a limited number of topics behind closed doors, but the reasons given by the board did not include those topics.

"A board cannot close the doors simply because it doesn't want the public around, and in this instance it doesn't seem that any valid basis for closing doors existed," said Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, a unit of the Department of State. "What is most bothersome, in my opinion, is the sense that neither board members nor their attorney had familiarity with the open meetings law."

During the meeting, village attorney Keith Corbett said the board was within its rights to enter executive session, "to discuss pertinent business or other matters of a confidential nature that may properly come before the board in executive session. This is an executory privilege that the board is entitled to, to discuss pertinent matters of a confidential nature."

Freeman, who reviewed a Newsday transcript of the exchange, said Corbett was incorrect. "There's no such thing as executive privilege when it comes to government in New York," Freeman said.

Corbett also said the board could go into executive session to discuss public safety issues, but Freeman said "it doesn't seem that the issue would come close to a situation in which danger was the issue."

After calling the executive session, the board met privately in another room. In Amityville last year, Freeman said an informal meeting of four Amityville trustees likely violated the state's open meetings law. The June 3 meeting, held at village hall with department heads to discuss matters including preparations for opening the municipal beach damaged during superstorm Sandy, was not publicly announced, and trustees failed to invite one of the five board members.

In Bayville on Monday, trustees also met in a side room, next to the entrance at least 45 minutes before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. meeting, while the building's doors were locked. A reporter was allowed to attend, but other people gathering outside could not enter the building and at one point, Rupp closed the window shades.

The doors remained locked until 7:17 p.m. when people who had gathered outside banged on the doors and we allowed in the building. It was unclear yesterdayTuesday whether the earlier meeting had been posted.

During the campaign, Rupp criticized the transparency of the previous administration of Douglas Watson, saying, "It results in too many of the trustees rubber stamping whatever the mayor wants . . . it doesn't foster any open type of debate on any of the issues, and I promise to change that." Rupp did not return calls or emails on Tuesday.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story was unclear in its attribution of a quote by Robert Freeman on public safety issues.

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