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Legality of planned meeting between East Williston and Williston Park officials in question

East Williston Mayor David Tanner with a three-dimensional

East Williston Mayor David Tanner with a three-dimensional model of the new water system being considered by the village board as an answer to a long dispute over water rates between East Williston and Williston Park. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A private meeting planned Thursday between leaders of East Williston and Williston Park to discuss resolving their long-standing dispute over water rates is illegal, according to Robert Freeman, director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

East Williston Mayor David Tanner disagreed with Freeman's assessment and said the meeting will be held as planned, at 7:30 p.m. at East Williston's Village Hall.

Tanner arranged the meeting between the mayors and village boards after alleging his village has been overpaying for water from Williston Park.

The dispute has led to two lawsuits, and last month Tanner said he was considering creating a $7 million independent water supply system for East Williston as a solution. But he said he preferred to amicably resolve the matter.

He said attorneys for the neighboring villages agree the meeting is legal. "This is a legal meeting that's been properly advertised," Tanner said Tuesday. He did not elaborate.

Tanner had said the public would not be invited to the meeting.

Freeman said such a closure would violate the 1977 Open Meetings Law, which does not allow a quorum of a board or boards to meet to conduct public business without the public being notified and allowed to attend. "The meetings are required to be conducted in public," as long as board members are acting in their official capacities, Freeman said.

Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar referred questions about the meeting to Tanner.

"My belief is that it does not violate the Open Public Meetings Law and it is legal," Ehrbar said. "I believe their attorney has been in touch with our attorney. . ."

Tanner said the boards could meet in executive session, a tool local governments use to discuss matters in private.

But Freeman said the boards cannot conduct negotiations in executive session unless they are related to collective bargaining. "I don't see there would be a basis for conducting an executive session," he said.

If the mayors were to meet alone or without a majority of the boards, the Open Meetings Law would not apply, Freeman said.

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