County Budget Session May Have Violated State Law

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County legislators and the county executive appear to have violated an open meeting law when they met privately without calling an executive session hours before the lawmakers voted in the budget.
County legislators and the county executive appear to have violated an open meeting law when they met privately without calling an executive session hours before the lawmakers voted in the budget. Photo Credit: Sarina Trangle

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Elected officials in Westchester appear to have violated the state’s open meetings law late Thursday when aides cleared the committee room to allow the county executive and legislators to hammer out a county budget agreement.

County Executive Robert Astorino and the legislators held the private meeting without anyone formally asking for a motion to go into executive session hours before lawmakers approved the 2012 budget early Friday morning.

Under state law, the board must vote to close its doors to the public, and then only for specific reasons. Budget negotiations are not among the reasons cited on the New York State Committee on Open Government’s website.

County staff asked reporters and public interest groups to clear the legislative committee room at approximately 9:15 p.m. Thursday. The budget and appropriations committee, which includes all legislators, did not break from its recess after filing into the room. 

Astorino, a Republican, then entered the committee room. The doors remained closed for approximately 30 minutes. Throughout the meeting county aids referred to the gathering as an executive session.

Executive sessions are designed for discussing private matters such as information that could threaten public safety, pending litigation and contract details for specific employees.

Within three hours of meeting with Astorino, lawmakers voted 16-1 early Friday morning to approve a $1.698 billion budget.

Officials were tight-lipped Friday about what happened behind closed doors.

Legislator William Ryan (D-White Plains) declined to comment, as did Astorino's office, and press representatives for the Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Calls for comment went unanswered when left at the office of Legislator Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers), who chairs the Board of Legislators, and on the voicemail of Legislator James Maisano (R-New Rochelle), the Republican minority leader.

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