Interviews For Hen Hud School Board Seat Closed To Public

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William Oricchio, left, is resigning from the Hendrick Hudson School Board, and he will be replaced by an appointee.
William Oricchio, left, is resigning from the Hendrick Hudson School Board, and he will be replaced by an appointee. Photo Credit: Jessica Glenza

MONTROSE, N.Y. – Interviews to fill an unexpired elected term on the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education were held Monday evening behind closed doors, even though the board president told fellow board members that interviews could be performed in public. 

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Do you believe possible school board members should be interviewed in open meetings?

  • Yes, the public should be able to vet appointed officials.

    73%
  • No, these individuals' privacy is more important.

    27%
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The school board’s closed meeting does not seem to correspond with the New York Committee on Open Government’s (COOG) position that closed meetings with possible appointees to elective office are not in the spirit of open government laws.

According to Robert Freeman, executive director of COOG, this use of a closed meeting, known as executive session, may not follow case law precedent.

Marion Walsh, Hendrick Hudson School Board president, said Monday evening that privacy matters such as employment and medical history intertwined with the entirety of every interview with five possible appointees to finish the unexpired term of school board member William Oricchio.

The cost of running an election affected the decision to appoint Oricchio's successor, Walsh said. An election would cost "at least $10,000," she said.

However, before the board officially called the meeting into session, Walsh told her fellow board members the interviews needed to be held in public. Board members objected, saying it was inappropriate, and with a majority vote, the board entered executive session.

"It's negative to the people who aren't chosen," Oricchio said about conducting the interviews in public.

"Would you want to have a job interview in public?" board member Mary-Pat Briggi said. "It’s uncomfortable for anybody."

Still, Freeman said he knew of only one case, Gordon V. Village of Monticello, that dealt directly with a government body that entered executive session to discuss filling a vacancy in an elective office. He said the court decision found no basis for the executive session and said its use was “misplaced.”

"The judge was saying, between the lines, there's no reason why this process should be secret," Freeman said during a phone interview Monday morning.

Public bodies may enter into executive session, Freeman said, to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person” or matters leading to an applicant’s appointment.

The five candidates interviewed were Carol Popolow Abraham, Diane Perilli, Joanna Harbolic, Toni Salvadore and David White.

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Comments (6)

QB1 is right on the money. As for RD62 thank you for explaining everything to us with such depth because all of us simple minded people just want the opportunity to learn about the person that is supposed to represent us. Maybe the board members just screwed up when thinking they had the right to go into exec. session for the interviews. They should have listened to Walsh she clearly understands the process and the reason for transparency. As for Bermuda, are all the residents of the school district allowed to use this place or is it reserved to just board members?

Oh, for Pete's sake, can we please try to handle things rationally without paranoid conspiracies appearing.

1. Mr. Freeman is largely wrong, or the writer has misquoted him. Gordon did not deal with a Board going into executive session to fill a vacancy. The case actually involved a village board going into executive session, where it created a new position and discussed the financial implications of creating the new position of Village Attorney. At the same session, the Village Board also reached an agreement of the redistribution of positions as all of these elected individuals shifted roles following the creation of the new position of Village Attorney. As the Appellate Division noted (the decision I reviewed), the creation of a new position and the financial implication of that position are matters that do not fit within the criteria for an executive session and properly belong in an open meeting.
The differences between Gordon and a school board interviewing people in order to assess the candidates for a single opening on the Board of Education should be obvious to all.

2. As the article notes, the Open Meeting law permits the board to go into executive session for reasons of "matters leading to the appointment .. of a particular person ...." A reasonable and rational argument can be made that this is exactly what the Board was doing and that the action fully complied with the Open Meeting Law. The Board of Education was meeting with five possible candidates with the anticipation that one would be appointed to the vacancy on the Board. Similarly, in order to make the selection of an interim board member transparent, reasonable minds might believe that everyone would have benefitted from having the interviews take place in an open meeting. The article suggests that Ms. Walsh promoted that view and she should be applauded for it.
The District's web site indicates that the Board of Education is meeting tomorrow at 7:30. Presumably, this issue will be on the agenda at that time. As the appointment may be discussed, anyone with an interest in the process may attend tomorrow's meeting.

3. It is important to note that no one has suggested that the Board lacks the authority to appoint an individual to fill a vacancy. It has happened in the past. If they have the authority to appoint someone for one year, it makes sense to interview the possible candidates in advance in order to gain some understanding of that person. Equally, this approach makes more sense than expending $10,000 on a special election where, perhaps, 750 people would vote. I would rather have that money supporting my child and her classmates, rather than spent on a unnecessary process.

4. As to the comments above, what does anyone possibly suspect that the Board of Education is hiding? Do you think that it is secretly funneling funds down to Bermuda, where the Board has built a lavish beachside villa with its own private militia to protect the property? Such utter nonsense.
Board of Education trustees receive no pay. They receive no perks of office. Budgets are discussed and published months in advance of the vote in May and an independent auditor reviews District expenditures. You can like or dislike the budget and the allocations within it, but each cent is allocated and everyone has the opportunity to voice his or her views.
It is unclear where the concept of a "party line" arises here. The current board has its own set of personalities and divergent views. The District has actually been fortunate and not had a Board divided -- and consequently intransigent and ineffective -- along political or philosophical grounds. It has remained reasonably focused on serving its true constituents, the students in the District (though last year's bond idea was largely dumb and driven by a small group of parents with, it seemed, support within the Adminsitration).

Really...all that just because some of us believe that it's fundamentally wrong to hold private interviews to select a candidate for an elected position? I'm not in favor of spending $10k for an election, just hold the interviews in full view of the public. Discuss personal issues in private, the rest open for the public and media to cover. Period, end of story.

There are no conspiracy theories being considered here. This board could use a dose of divergent views and differing opinions, and I don't believe it would render them intransigent and ineffective. This isn't Congress. On the contrary. It would be much more constructive and representative of the community at large and a good deal more refreshing.
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Are you kidding me? This raises serious questions. The Cortlandt Voice should investigate this further. The board is obviously hiding this from the public. Anyone who thinks that depriving the public from learning about someone that is representing them is the right thing to do needs help.  I call on the board to hold a special election for the position.
As for the board members.  The timing of Orricio's decision to resign stinks. He deliberately waited till after the school  board elections to allow the board to appoint the position. We're not idiots!  And Briggi, are you serious with that statement? You are interviewing a representative of the taxpayers which all of you are as well. The public has the right to learn how they will govern. 

Board members are elected by the community therefore this process should be open to the public, period. This board wants to control the process in order to appoint someone who will vote along their "party" line, and an open process would make that more difficult to achieve.

It always seemed suspect to me that Mr. Oricchio waited to resign until after the budget/elections were held. This board has one objective, to push forward their agenda whether or not it represents the wishes of the Hen Hud community at large or not.

This is another example of the arrogant, public be damned, attitude of this out of touch board.